Menopause – A workplace issue

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2020 National Women's Conference
23 October 2019

Roughly half of UK workers are women, all of whom will experience the menopausein some form. The office of National Statistics Information informs us that there are currently 3.5 million women workers over the age of 50 in the UK which is almost half (45%) of the over 50 workforce. UNISON is a union of a million women, and we know there are 8 out of 10 menopausal women at work. Therefore, there is a significant number of UNISON women workers being affected by the symptoms of the Menopause every day and it is being raised as a top workplace issue.Three quarters of women say that the menopause caused them to change their life and over half say it had a negative impact on their lives. Those are the headlines from a recent survey conducted by the British Menopause Society (BMS), released on 18 October 2019 to mark World Menopause Day. The findings reveal the need for greater support for women experiencing the menopause across the UK.The �Peri-menopause� is the period that leads to the menopause when many women may experience symptoms. The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. Around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency. Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of which can be quite severe and have a significant impact on their everyday activities including work life. Common symptoms include: hot flushes, Palpitations, headaches, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, skin irritation, vaginal dryness, low mood or anxiety, Depression, reduced sex drive (libido) and problems with memory and concentration. Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before a woman�s periods stop and last around four years after the last period, although some women experience them for much longer and can need medication to alleviate the symptoms. According to the Office of Women�s Health �changes in your body in the years around menopause may raise your risk for certain health problems�. Low levels of estrogen and other changes related to aging (like gaining weight) can raise your risk of stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis. Whilst some of us laugh at our hot flushes and are frustrated by sleepless nights the serious and often unknown impact of menopause is the pressure menopause has on our hearts and cardiovascular disease.Many women also report that the menopause seems to make existing health conditions worse, triggering or coinciding with a flare up of symptoms.It�s very important that women�s health across a lifetime should be considered. If women have a healthy lifestyle before perimenopause it will benefit women�s health during the menopause. By asking ALL women to pause for thought it gives an opportunity for all women to think about their own health and what changes they could make.A survey (the first of its kind) was conducted by researchers from King�s College London and The University of Nottingham and published in 2017. Its key objectives were to explore women�s perspectives into what employers and managers should and should not do in relation to women going through menopause. The results highlighted broad themes of:Awareness � employers and managers to know what menopause is, the nature of its symptoms, and understand the potential impact of the work environment on menopausal symptoms (and vice versa). Better awareness here could lead to improved reasonable adjustments such as better ventilation and temperature control, available drinking water, desk fans access to rest areas and toilets and Uniforms with looser fabric and cooler footwear.Women were also keen for menopause to not always be seen in a negative light. Language such as �affliction� or �condition� is off limits. Menopause is a normal, natural process, but experienced differently by all women. Therefore, assumptions or generalization is unhelpful. One-size-does not fit all. Communication skills and behaviours � Empathy, consideration, concern and respect were key factors in communication expected from managers. Policies – Women suggested effective policies are important here. Many women identified existing policies which could incorporate menopause. Workplace training to equip managers with the confidence, skills and knowledge to support menopause in the workplace.We must make sure that all the experiences of our members shape how we support them through the Menopause and incorporate awareness raising, workplace training and policies to protect and support them.UNISON have developed an excellent �Guidance on menopause and the workplace� for UNISON representative to use to support our members. We also know that many employers have policies in place regarding the Menopause. However, we could do more by encouraging branches to collectively recognise World Menopause Day, share the good practice we have and develop more policies with employers so that all our members receive support when needed.For all women, a day of reflection about the menopause gives time for women to consider; lifestyle measures (healthy diet and physical activity) prevention of weight gain being involved in mentally stimulating activities. We want women to pause for thought and use the opportunity assess female-specific risk factors to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease. A happy heart is a healthy heart. Dr Roger Lobo argues �The main message we want to put forward is that, at the menopause, women have a chance to take steps which will help determine whether they go on to live a healthy and active life. ( ) Conference calls on the Women�s Committee to:1)Encourage branches to support World Menopause Day to give women members the time to pause for thought and have a health audit and ensure better life chances.2)Support branches to ensure that relevant and helpful information is available for UNISON members and ask branches to develop a women�s health newsletter. 3)Work with regions and branches to promote / encourage use of UNISON Menopause campaign materials and provide training for managers and decision-makers to protect the rights of perimenopausal and menopausal UNISON women.