According to StatCan, in 2019, Canadian women represented 47.4% of the labour force, a 25% increase from 1976, when they represented 37.6%.
With an increasing number of women in the workplace, current generations are more likely to experience menopausal changes while at work now than ever before.
Despite the growing number of Canadian women at work, however, 54% of those going through menopause believe that it is still a taboo subject, according to a survey by the Menopause Foundation of Canada (MFC). Three-quarters of working women also said they felt their employer is not supportive of menopause or isn’t aware of the option of support if needed regarding this issue.
As part of their commitment to a workplace free of ageism, bias, and discrimination, workplaces should be mindful of menopause and conscious of best practices for employees going through this stage of life.
Despite the persistent stigma around menopause in society, employers who build their workplace culture around certain best practices will help eliminate negative attitudes in their work environments. Here are some tips on how to create a more menopause-friendly environment.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the term used to mark the end of a person’s menstrual cycle. It is applied after the person has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Menopause often occurs when a person is in their 40s or 50s, with the average age being around 51. Menopause usually lasts about seven years but women can experience symptoms for as long as 14 years.
When menopause occurs, a person’s estrogen levels drop and they no longer ovulate. The decrease in estrogen may lead to symptoms like mood changes, night sweats and hot flashes.
In addition to physical changes including bladder issues, reduced cholesterol levels, slowed metabolism, and aches and pains, signs of menopause can also include symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and cognitive impairment.
Why does menopause matter in the workplace?
Menopause often happens at a critical career stage, when women are most likely to move into top leadership positions. As an employer, if you want women in leadership roles to maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, you need to be more open about what menopause is and how it affects both individuals and organizations.
Menopausal symptoms are beyond an employee’s control. Employers have a significant role to play to ensure that anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms gets the support they need.
Typically, menopause usually won’t have a large impact on an employee’s ability to do their job, however, for others, there may be effects on one’s health, performance, and attendance. To ensure that women experience a menopause-friendly workplace, specific guidance on menopause taken by employers will help improve the overall team morale, retain valuable skills, and reduce sickness absences.
What can employers do to support employees experiencing menopause?
To minimize the stigma around menopause in the workplace, it is crucial that employers are aware of how menopause can affect an individual’s physical and mental health, and how they can address it sensitively and fairly.
Start the conversation
Part of the way that employers can promote a menopause-friendly workplace is to always encourage employees to speak openly about the issue. They should also ensure that employees are aware of the support available if they need it.
One of the first steps is to have an open conversation. Female managers can take lead on this conversation and encourage other colleagues to openly talk about their experience with menopause.
Some women feel shy or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms. However, when they can relate to other women who are feeling the same it creates a safe space. For these types of sensitive issues, it’s vital that employers build relationships based on trust and empathy so employees will feel comfortable enough to raise a health issue like menopause.
Offer flexibility and adjustments
If the employee is experiencing the following symptoms, employers should consider making the following adjustments.
Insomnia and/or night sweats:
- Offer a flexible working arrangement. For example, allowing employees to start a shift at a later start or an earlier finish time
- If possible, offer the employee a hybrid work option
- Provide a fan or move the employee’s desk closer to a window
- Provide easy access to cold drinking water
- If possible, limit the time wearing PPE or a heavy uniform
Headaches and feeling tired
- Consider a temporary adjustment to someone’s work duties
- Provide easy access to the washrooms
- Remind employees of the importance of taking regular breaks
Muscle and body aches
- Encourage employees to move around frequently and stay mobile
- Promote the use of counselling, perhaps through your company’s Employee Assistance Program
- Discuss adjustments to tasks and duties that are causing stress
What should be included in a menopause policy?
Employers should always consider menopause when developing policies on absences, sick leave, or flexible work. They should also inform staff of the support available to women experiencing menopause.
Although there isn’t currently an official government policy on menopause required in Canada, failing to support menopausal women can lead to several practical and legal risks. These include poor employee engagement, discrimination claims, reduced performance, absenteeism, and loss of valuable employees who may feel forced to resign.
Employers don’t always have to create a new policy; they can also review existing policies and make sure to include accommodations for employees going through menopause. That said, employers who want to create a more menopause-friendly workplace and work to reduce stigma around the issue in the workplace are encouraged to create policies that help accommodate women going through this stage of life. Policies can include the enabling of temperature-controlled areas, encouraging time off to attend medical appointments, and flexible adjustment on workdays, including breaks if symptoms are severe.
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