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Are your managers ready to talk about the menopause?

Consultancy 4th January 2022

In 2019, 900,000 women decided to leave their job because of a mismatch between their role and menopausal symptoms according to CIPD/Bupa research. More cases are starting to end up in court as people start to see that maybe it’s not their ‘fault’ — an employer is being unreasonable and uncaring.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service figures show a steady increase: 10 menopause-related employment tribunals in the first six months of 2021 compared with 5 in 2018. Law firm Linklaters predicts 20 cases will go to tribunal in this coming year based on initial claims.

The legal position isn’t clear cut, as the menopause is not fully protected under the 2010 Equality Act. At least not yet — MPs on the women and equalities committee are looking now at its inclusion. And for the moment the level of active response from HR teams is mixed. A survey last year by a wellbeing firm suggested 54% of UK businesses didn’t have any dedicated menopause support.

The advice from HR bodies centres around awareness and training, making sure the implications of the menopause are added to the growing list of sensitivities and considerations that HR, managers, and staff in general all need to keep in mind. So training for managers to become more familiar with the symptoms and how they might affect needs and behaviours. What to consider in terms of adapting facilities. Reviewing policies around sickness and performance management so that the menopause is taken into account.

This is all useful belt and braces. The kind of response that might help with responding to difficult questions in tribunals — but does it, in practice, help women (or non-binary people who also experience symptoms) deal with personal and sensitive health issues like these? And do they really make for a genuine understanding and positive workplace environment?

In some ways, the growing attention to staff with menopausal symptoms now feels like part of a familiar routine. We’ve woken up to another issue that was once felt to be taboo — or at least nothing to do with work and the workplace; another human situation that used to belong solely to home life, something to deal with out of hours. Just like mental health once was, not so long ago. There are awareness campaigns, training for staff to provide specific support, everyone is supposed to feel more comfortable bringing up their issues. But formal policies and processes don’t necessarily mean a better experience. There’s no indication, anywhere, on any level, that the mental health of employees is becoming more robust as a result of years of more attention and focus from HR.

What really matters is what goes on behind the ‘official’ HR process and whether there is a feeling of trust and safety when it comes to employees being themselves, all of themselves. So it’s a people thing. Do people feel they are really being listened to and understood or are they being dealt with in a mechanical way? Logged on the system and pushed towards an online resource.

That’s why HR needs to be looking more at the informal channels for dealing with concerns, people skills and good conversations. Because whatever the specific nature of the worry is, what’s causing the conflict with work demands and expectations, the only real solutions come with a true sense of psychological safety, not compliance.