Talking To Your Manager About Menopause

It would be good to think that in a modern mixed-gender workplace, you would feel able to mention the ‘M’ word without embarrassment.

But in reality, our work colleagues are not always our friends. Discussing personal issues like menopause in the workplace may not come naturally. Your manager may be male, younger than you or just not very approachable. 

Times are changing. Many managers in large corporations will have had ‘the menopause talk’ at some point during training and have at least some understanding of it.

This should result in you being able to raise the subject and make positive suggestions as to how support can be improved. There may be a policy or guidance in place that gives tips on approaching your manager.

Try to be clear about the outcome you are hoping for. Is it a change of uniform, room temperature or do you need more significant adjustments in working pattern or hours?

If the latter, don’t be surprised if you are referred on after your initial discussion. This can potentially be to HR (human resources) or to occupational health. They will be better placed to help you. Larger companies are gradually working to put in place policies and procedures relating to menopause. Smaller ones may have a way to go.

What if I get nowhere with my manager?

  • You pluck up the courage to speak to your manager and they say, or maybe just imply, that you “just get on as best you can”. This will not solve the problem or help your work. ‘Just getting on’ means continuing to struggle through menopause in the workplace without support and adjustments. You may need to approach another manager to have a fruitful discussion. 
  • Some organisations have a system in place for ‘alternative line manager access’ for when you want to discuss something important without your immediate line manager to being aware. This may be a time to use that.
  • If not, contact the HR or OH department – they will have processes in place to help when there is a barrier in communication between managers and employees, whatever the reason.

If I need sick leave because of menopause, do I have to say this is why I’m off?

  • There is no requirement for you to explicitly disclose menopause as the reason you are off sick. If you take time off sick because of debilitating symptoms, for example, fatigue or anxiety, there is no requirement to be specific on the self-certification forms or GP-issued ‘Fit Notes’.  
  • If you take sick leave because you can no longer do the job effectively because of menopause, you may decide that it does need to be disclosed. Small adjustments may be the key to making work life more manageable. 

From a company perspective though, it would be very helpful to know how many women needed time off because of menopausal complaints. If more women reported the actual reason for sick leave, workplaces will realise the effect menopause is having on employees and might find ways to change.

It is only too common for the use of ‘stress’ or ‘women’s problems’ to describe the reason for leave. The reality is, these may be due in your menopausal symptoms. 

 

My symptoms are making it hard for me to do my job properly. What are my rights?

  • Many women will only need to make small adjustments to cope with menopause in the workplace. Very few need more significant changes or even consider giving up working altogether.
  • Before you reach that stage, seek advice from HR or a union representative. In a small company, have an honest discussion with managers or bosses. 
  • What would it take for you to carry on working productively? Your employer has a responsibility under current Health and Safety Legislation and Gender Equality Legislation to ensure that “workplaces are suitable for the individuals who work in them”. Also, that the “health, safety and welfare” of all employees is considered.
  • Organisations cannot just refuse to consider the small changes that might improve your particular work environment. Of course, you may be in one of those few jobs where adjustments would alter the manner of the work or impinge on the safety of others, so that has to be taken into account. 
  • Seek medical help, too. Such a severe effect on your work may indicate the need for medical support. Seeking earlier rather than later could mean the difference between being able to continue with your job or not. 

If you need further advice and support around talking to your manager, or managing your symptoms, speak with your Peppy practitioner.

 

See more expert advice from Kathy Abernethy.

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