Menopause and the Workplace

Menopause and the Workplace


Friday 18th  October 2019 marked World Menopause Day and raises awareness of the effect of menopause on the lives of women around the globe. This year, Acas published new guidelines on how employers can support female employees going through the menopause.

According to the ONS (2015) older women are one of the fastest growing demographics in the workforce. There are around 4.3million women aged 50 or over in the UK workforce a trend that is reflected across Europe. The British government surmises that around 47% of the UK workforce will experience menopause during their working lifetime.

The average age for menopause is 51, with pre-menopause starting for many at around 47. Like it or not, menopause is something that businesses small and large are having to take more seriously. While not all women experience a work-impacting menopause, some can experience severe and debilitating symptoms. The CIPD found that three out of five women aged between 45 and 55 years old,  believe that their menopause has had a negative impact on their work life experience.


Menopause and its symptoms

The menopause process usually takes around four years but can be shorter or longer (in some cases women have experienced symptoms for 12 years). Symptoms can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Hot flushes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness/ Lack of energy
  • Irregular and/or painful periods
  • Urinary problems
  • Dry eyes
  • Skin issues
  • Weight gain
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Inability to concentrate/focus
  • Reduced ability to recover from illness

It is clear that many of these symptoms will have a negative impact on day to day work and productivity. One study found that 40% of those surveyed said that their menopause symptoms were causing them to make mistakes at work and another 40% said that they had lost interest in their jobs as a result of the process. It is difficult to get accurate figures, but menopause symptoms tend to be the main cause of work absence for women over the age of 45. Could this explain why a quarter of women have considered quitting their jobs because of their menopause – although only 1 in 10 have actually done so?

Despite the fact that almost 50% of the workforce is, has or will experience the menopause whilst working, many women feel unable to discuss their symptoms with their line managers. A recent YouGov survey supported by the CiPD found that 65% of respondents were struggling with concentration, 58% were experiencing increased stress levels and over half felt they were less patient with clients and colleagues.  Unfortunately, only a quarter of women who took time off work due to their menopause symptoms felt able to be upfront about their reasons. They cited privacy, embarrassment and unsupportive management.

This all highlights the need to break the stigma that surrounds menopause so that it is no longer a taboo subject.


Breaking the taboo

In October 2019, Channel 4 became the first known UK media company to launch a workplace menopause policy. They are endeavouring to normalise this ‘taboo’ subject in business and intend to improve understanding throughout the business. The aim is to create a more supportive environment for employees before, during and after menopause. Their dedicated ‘menopause champion’ will carry out awareness briefings and factor menopause into their mental health employee network, 4Mind.

Smaller businesses and organisations can follow Channel 4’s lead. A large aspect of managing menopause in the workplace is raising awareness and creating organisational cultures that support women, ensuring they feel able to discuss health concerns openly. Too often managers feel unable to support their teams due to lack of understanding of the condition and symptoms. As with most areas of workplace health and wellbeing, confidence is key.

Management training on the subject is a great place to start. Menopause transition, along with age-related issues men may experience, such as prostate problems, can be incorporated into a wider education on equality and diversity. A recent government report particularly recommends a focus on improving managers sensitivity and listening skills.

Workplace-wide campaigns can then be implemented to raise staff awareness of the symptoms and issues faced during menopause and ways female employees can manage and minimise the symptoms themselves along with guidelines on how to access organisational support.


How to help in the workplace

There are a number of ways businesses can support employees experiencing menopause, and the vast majority of them are practical for even the smallest business.

  • Providing desk fans and/or ventilation to counter hot flushes
  • Considering desk location to manage temperature
  • Providing a spare uniform
  • Offering a space to change clothes
  • Flexible working options
  • Opportunity to work from home
  • A calm and quiet rest area
  • Natural light where possible
  • Consideration


These policies and workplace changes will not only benefit women transitioning through menopause but also many other employees for a wide variety of reasons. So, it is little wonder that progressive organisations are already offering their staff some or all of them. In most cases, consideration, awareness and an open approach to managing the menopause is all employers need to support women through this transition and so ensuring that they retain these valuable team members.

Working through the heat

Working through the heat



The British are known internationally for their love of talking about the weather. It’s little wonder since our island experiences extremes of heat, cold, wet, dry and everything in between over the course of a year and sometimes during a single day! Over the past few years we have seen even greater extremes than usual and just this summer there have been reports of record-breaking temperature highs all across Europe.  Experts are forecasting extreme weather conditions, like this summer’s heatwaves, to become a global ‘norm’, so how will this affect businesses and how can employers plan and prepare for summer heatwaves?  

While there are rules around minimum workplace temperatures, there are no such rules regulating maximum temperatures and no regulations regarding how to care for staff during the warm summer months or a heatwave. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state only that “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”. Of course, the weather is beyond any organisation’s control, but there are plenty of ways businesses can mitigate the impact of high temperatures on their employees.

Aircon Wars

We all have different preferences when it comes to workplace temperature, but research has shown that gender plays a notable part. A study, published in Nature, found that women feel colder than men and that women generally work better in temperatures of around 24-25°C. The impact of temperature on men at work was far less significant.

Airconditioning Wars can monopolise much of the summer months in offices all over the world. Around 80% of employees complain about the air con and spend 6-8 minutes a day changing the temperature settings. Which isn’t such a surprise when you realise that air conditioning units are set to suit ‘male temperatures’ so, the truth is, in this discussion, both sides are right – it does feel fine and it is too cold.

Luckily, the solution is also pretty simple, a 2004 study found that colder offices resulted in employees making more errors. So turning down the air con and enjoying the summer warmth could be good for productivity, not just the office mood.  

If you don’t have air conditioning, don’t worry, there are plenty of ways you can help keep the office comfortable, whatever the temperature. Keep blinds or curtains drawn to keep the sun out, windows and doors open to ensure the area is well ventilated and investing in a few fans will help to keep the air moving and cooling.

A hard days work

Getting the office temperature right is only part of managing a summer scorcher. One poll found that employees extend their lunch breaks by 30% during fair weather, spending an average of 13 minutes more away from their desks than usual to enjoy the sun. The same survey found that men are more likely to take a little extra time away from their desks and also admitted to having a sneaky alcoholic drink at lunchtimes during the Summer. However, whatever the weather, employees don’t have any right to cut their day short without flexible working agreements in place. This could, however, be a great time to consider flexible working options with your staff perhaps at a team meeting in the local park?

What not to wear

The vast majority (over three quarters) of companies expect their staff to maintain a dress code throughout the year, irrespective of temperature. However, employees with a relaxed dress code are more likely to work longer hours. If staff are uncomfortable and hot, they are far less likely to be prepared to put in a few extra minutes to get the job finished. It is worth revisiting dress-code rules to see how they can be adapted for extreme weather conditions. It may well pay off in increased productivity.


Travel woes

Unlike snow days, heat shouldn’t have much impact on an employee’s ability to get into work although train companies do occasionally reduce speed or cancel trains to prevent problems with buckling tracks. The London Underground has been known to get uncomfortably hot during rush hours, up to 42°C in the July 2019 heatwave. In extreme cases the public may be advised to avoid travel, but most of the time it’s simply less appealing to get on an over-crowded train, tube or bus when it’s hot and stuffy especially when they don’t have air conditioning.

All of this can prevent employees arriving in work on time. This must be managed on a case by case basis for every business depending on your own specific circumstances, but it is worth considering a standard organisation-wide response in advance.

Sleepless nights

Many people struggle to get a good night’s sleep when it’s very warm at night. Employees who have been tossing and turning all night will not be at their best in the workplace. During periods of high temperatures employers should be alert to the potential health risks posed by fatigue, especially if the hot weather continues for several days. 

Everyone’s concentration and focus are affected by too little sleep, but fatigue can be fatal in some workplaces. Providing a factsheet on how to beat the heat at night is a simple way to support employees and encourage them to let you know if they’re struggling. Simple tips such as keeping curtains or blinds shut during the day to reduce heat build-up, putting sheets into the freezer and taking a tepid shower before bed, can make a world of difference. 

Staying safe in hot weather

Of course it’s not just about time-keeping and productivity, high temperatures can have a negative impact on employee health:

Dehydration – We sweat more in hotter weather so, naturally, we need to drink more. Employers should be ensuring that their staff have adequate access to fresh water and opportunity to drink.  Dehydration can negatively impact energy levels and concentration. Discouraging tea and coffee and instead offering cold drinks and high water content snacks like strawberries, cucumber and melon is a great way to help staff stay hydrated whatever the weather.

Overheating – This can be very serious if it develops into heatstroke and uncomfortable at best. Symptoms include tingling skin, headache, weakness and fatigue, nausea, change in heart rate, dizziness, sweating more than usual or not at all.  If a member of staff is experiencing any of these symptoms due to the heat the best course of action is to get them to a cooler space, lay them down and make sure they drink plenty of cool fluids. If the symptoms are severe contact a doctor. 

Heart problems – In high temperatures our hearts must work harder which can be problematic for people with heart disease or other cardiovascular illnesses.  Keeping hydrated and as cool as possible is the key to managing heart conditions in the heat.

Breathing problems – People with long-term lung conditions like asthma, bronchiectasis or COPD can struggle in hot weather. High levels of ozone, caused by sunshine and high pollen counts can cause symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath and coughs.

All of these can make employees feel unwell and fatigued but are luckily easily manageable in most cases by following some basic guidelines, especially keeping cool and well hydrated.

Whatever the weather

It might seem like a little thing, but high temperatures can be very problematic for companies and in extreme cases, fatal. A comprehensive health and wellbeing plan should incorporate a section on how to support employees whatever the weather. For many of us, the weather is a much loved conversation topic, but the forecast is that these extreme conditions will become more commonplace. Businesses need to do more than just talk about the weather, they need to plan and prepare for it, especially if they want to keep their cool.

Not just a headache – Migraine in the Workplace

Not just a headache – Migraine in the Workplace



A recent study by the Economist and Novartis urges businesses to do more to support employees with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and migraine. All three of these conditions are becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace due, in part, to an ageing population. One of the most common is migraine.

Lack of awareness and understanding of this debilitating neurological disease is costing business, time, money and valuable employees.

The cost of migraine

Migraine affects around 14.7% of the global population, which is around 1 in 7 people. Although migraine often first appears during puberty, it is most common in adults aged between 35 and 45. The condition is more common than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.

The average migraine sufferer needs up to 33 days off work a year to cope with the symptoms. Around 25 million working days are lost each year in the UK to migraine. It is the second most common cause of short-term absence for office-based employees. The annual cost to the NHS is believed to be £150 million and when you factor in presenteeism (being at work when you’re too unwell to be productive) and disability the total cost to the UK economy is an eye-watering £3.42 billion.

Not ‘just a headache’

The biggest mistake organisations make regarding migraine is thinking it’s ‘just’ a bad headache.  It is in fact, a serious medical condition that can have incapacitating neurological side effects. Globally, migraine is ranked as the seventh most disabling disease and the leading cause of disability among neurological disorders.

Three times more women suffer from migraine than men, around 73%. This is thought to be because of the link between hormonal changes and migraine. For most sufferers, episodes can occur one or more times a month and the vast majority of those will have a significant impact on the person’s ability to function. An attack can last between 4-72 hours and can occur at any time. There are a variety of symptoms and any two sufferers may experience them completely differently, but most migraines will cause one or more of the following:

  • Very painful headache
  • Visual disturbances
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light, sound or scent.

Causes and Triggers

Although the root cause of migraine is not yet fully understood, there is a greater appreciation of potential triggers, for example:

  • Stress
  • Low blood sugar
  • Hunger
  • Alcohol
  • Menstruation
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lighting
  • Sound
  • Certain smells
  • Hormonal changes.

Working with migraine

The Economist research found that people suffering from migraine were more likely to take themselves out of the workforce or have concerns about the condition’s impact on their career progression.

Deeply inground misconceptions of the condition lead employers to misunderstand employees with migraine. They are likely to perceive them to be exaggerating symptoms because they are weak, lazy or trying to get out of doing their job. Suffers can be accused of being inconsiderate and unreliable and many experience depression and anxiety alongside the migraine. One study discovered that just 1 in 5 bosses thought that a migraine attack was a valid reason for absence.

All of this can result in employees quitting work or declining advancement opportunities due to concerns that their condition will have too great an impact. This is bad news for organisations who risk losing loyal, experienced employees for the sake of a little forethought.

Accommodating Employees with Migraine

An organisation with a proactive approach to health and wellbeing can forestall employees leaving because of this neurological condition with some relatively minor, and often cost-free adaptations.

  1. Communication – With most health and wellbeing issues, communication is key. Migraine has no visible symptoms, so it can often be a hidden condition. Encourage employees to be open and honest about their experience of migraine. Knowing how many of your staff suffer from the condition will help you to prepare a proportional and appropriate action plan to support them.
  2. Flexibility – Flexible and remote working options allow an employee to work around a migraine in a way that works for them and you.
  3. Noise levels – Noise can be a trigger, so consider noise levels in the office. Offer the opportunity to sit in a quieter, calmer area. If this isn’t an option noise-cancelling headsets or sound-absorbing panels can be used.
  4. Lighting – Bright lighting, especially fluorescent lights, flashing lights and computer screens, can all trigger an episode. Add fluorescent filters to existing bulbs for a more natural light, fit anti-glare computer screens or install software that offers colour-tinting options. In some cases, the employee can wear sunglasses to reduce light and glare.
  5. Support – Provide a space where employees can go and rest in a quiet, dark area if they’re experiencing an episode while at work.  Also consider arranging transport home, driving with a migraine can be difficult or dangerous.
  6. Fragrance – If your employee’s condition is triggered by smells, consider reducing them where possible. Ask staff to refrain from wearing strong fragrances and ensure ventilation systems are working.  
  7. Stress – Stress is a significant migraine trigger. Good management communication and a well implemented health and wellbeing plan will go a long way to keeping stress levels manageable in the workplace.


When considering the process of finding, recruiting and training individuals, keeping existing employees is far more cost effect than bringing in new staff. Our ageing population and workforce mean that neurological conditions, such as migraine, are going to become more, not less common. While medical treatments continue to improve, so does our understanding of how to prevent and manage such conditions in the workplace.  Giving migraine the respect and consideration it deserves as a debilitating and life-impacting condition, will result in a morale and productivity boost that more than covers any costs.

Time Out – Don’t undervalue annual leave

Time Out – Don’t undervalue annual leave



In the UK, full time employees are legally entitled to at least 5.6 weeks (28 days) of paid holiday a year – this applies to agency workers, those working irregular hours and those on zero hour contracts. Part time workers will receive less holiday depending on how many days they work, for example, someone working 3 days a week can expect 16.8 days a year. It’s up to the employer to decide whether this time includes bank holidays. provides a handy holiday entitlement calculator to work out annual leave.

Employers can allow staff to carry over or ‘bank’ a portion of untaken leave to the next year. If an employee is on parental or sick leave and thus unable to take their holiday entitlement an employer must allow them to carry over up to 20 days of their 28 days entitlement. Employees can also sometimes request payment in lieu of days taken, but this is at the discretion of the employer.

Yet when it comes to it, most people do not take their full entitlement of annual leave. Some roll the days over, but others simply lose the holiday entirely. In 2018 Glassdoor found that 40 percent of employees reported taking a maximum of only half of their holiday entitlement. The average UK employee took just 62 percent of their holiday days, with younger workers most likely to work through their holidays. The study reported 65 percent of 18-24 year olds and 60 percent of 25-34 year olds took less than 91 percent of their holiday allowance.

Skipping out on taking a break

Concerns that taking annual leave would lead to falling behind in work or impact negatively on promotion prospects were often cited. However, the most common reason given is that people are simply ‘too busy’ to take an extended break.

The build-up to taking time off work can, itself, be stressful. Once the holiday and all the associated practicalities and logistics are arranged there is the matter of tying up ‘loose ends’ at work. For some this can significantly raise stress levels ahead of a trip – we’ve all heard people saying they’ll need another holiday to get over this one. Not so surprising then, that holidaymakers reported that they enjoy just nine days out of a two week break. It takes them around two days to relax only for the tension to seep back in three days before the holiday ends.

Even once away people can find it difficult to switch off. These days many of us take our smart phones, tablets and laptops with us on holiday and it can prove all too tempting to log in to work, just to check how things are going. Around 40 percent of people admitted to setting good intentions aside by checking emails and making work-related calls during their holidays. Some people confessed to checking emails up to six times a day and making up to eight phone calls in just two weeks.


Annual leave makes business sense

On the face of it, it would seem good for business if staff do not take advantage of their full annual leave. After all the result is more days of work for the same money. However, research shows us that taking good quality time away from the workplace is good for employee wellbeing, staff moral and, ultimately, productivity. A recent study found that 60 percent of workers felt more productive after taking a holiday.


Supporting a positive work-life balance and actively encouraging employees to take their annual leave entitlement can reduce stress levels and prevent the onset of more serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or chronic stress. All of which can lead to reduced performance, higher absenteeism and in some cases long term sickness absence.

Lack of adequate breaks, during the day, week and year, can reduce focus and stifle creativity. It’s also not just mental health that can suffer from not taking time out. Overworking has been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as a whole host of other health issues.


Time Out

Annual leave should be seen, not as an inconvenience, but as an integral part of a healthy, successful business. It’s time to move on from toxic workplace attitudes that glorify long hours. Instead organisations should actively encourage staff to take their full annual leave safe in the knowledge that this will improve health, wellbeing and productivity.


Top Eight Tips for culture change
  1. Respect annual leave. When employees do book time off, organisations need to respect that. Personnel Today found that 36 percent of business owners contacted staff who were on annual leave. This has to stop.
  2. Regular reminders – Create a live, company-wide, document to allow employees to add their holiday and view others. This will help them to see that others are taking their holiday entitlement too while also encouraging general discussion to avoid clashes.
  3. Be proactive – Share the holiday document monthly. This way the holiday dates of colleagues don’t get forgotten, project planning can factor them in, last-minute panics can be avoided and everyone is regularly reminded to think about their own annual leave.
  4. Be open and up front – create a company policy that expressly details the organisation’s rules on annual leave and sets out your expectation that employees take their full entitlement unless they have good reason to carry over.
  5. Track holiday habits – Make sure that HR are tracking annual leave so that they can flag up when someone is not taking their entitlement. Not only can this offer an opportunity to discuss that employee’s concerns over why they feel unable to take a break, it may also help to bring issues such as mismanaged workloads, unrealistic expectations or inadequate staffing levels to the fore before they become problematic.
  6. Set a good example – Senior management can be the worst offenders. Whatever the size of the organisation, from SMEs to multi-national corporations it can sometimes seem impossible for management to find a ‘good’ time to take a break. Resist the urge to keep pushing your vacation to the back of the queue and embrace the importance of down-time to the good running of your mental and physical health and your business.  
  7. Use it or lose it – This is a controversial point as most of the surveys looking at attitudes on annual leave found that employees will still fail to take their full annual leave entitlement even if they lose it. However, when combined with a positive attitude towards taking time out it could work to encourage employees to get booking.
  8. Incentivise – Including time off work as part of incentive packages for good work/successful projects etc. can demonstrate the importance that the organisation place on taking annual leave.  


Evidence supports the arguments that time out and rest and relaxation results in increased performance. As counter intuitive as it may seem, less time in work really can mean greater productivity when we are there. As we begin to look to the summer, it’s well worth considering your organisation’s approach to annual leave, and perhaps it’s time for you to book that holiday.

Sleep Matters to your business

Sleep Matters to your business



It will come as no surprise that a well-rested employee is a more productive employee. What might raise eyebrows is that organisations can do their part to help with that.

Most employers see sleep deprivation as a personal issue that has little or nothing to do with the workplace. It’s the duty of each of us to ensure that we organise our lives such that we get the sleep we require in order to be at our best in the workplace.

The reality is that while everyone skips a few hours kip here and there occasionally, if an individual is doing this regularly it can have a significant impact on their health, wellbeing and subsequently, their performance at work.

To be clear, employers are not legally responsible for employee’s sleeping habits. They do, however, have a few key things to consider.


1. There must be at least 11 hours rest time between working days. This is not much of a problem in most 9-5 environments but needs to be factored into timetabling for shift work.

2. If an employee is not getting enough sleep due to work-related stress and the business does not endeavour to resolve this, they may be failing in their duty of care.

3. Lack of sleep can result in health problems, irritability or loss of concentration which can all result in costly incidents for an organisation.


Independent research institute, RAND Europe, found that insufficient sleep cost the UK around £38bn in 2016. That amounts to 1.86 percent of GDP – not an insignificant figure. It’s not an insurmountable problem though. RAND’s research found that encouraging people who usually sleep less than six hours a night to sleep instead for six to seven could make a huge difference to the economy.

Except for a few notable people such as Donald Trump and Margaret Thatcher, who can get by on just four or five hours sleep a night, most of us need around seven to nine hours most nights. It is a common misconception that when we sleep everything goes into shut-down, in fact in many ways the complete opposite occurs. This is the time that our bodies reset, restore and process.

Not only does sleep aid physical recovery it is also the time that our brain lays down memories and consolidates information gathered during the day. During sleep we literally move information from short-term memory to long-term memory. In fact, a good night’s sleep actually aids memory during the first few hours after we wake.

On the other hand, persistent lack of adequate sleep can cause difficulty concentrating and focussing. It is harder to make decisions and low mood, or mood swings become more prevalent. In addition, reactions will be slower and there’s more chance of drifting off during the day, making accidents much more likely.

Another myth is that we can ‘catch up’ on sleep. Unfortunately, this is not true. If an individual is persistently not getting enough sleep during the week, they can’t simply sleep in at the weekend to make up for it. That ‘sleep debt’ will continue to accrue and potentially cause long term negative effects.

Lack of sleep is now being linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. It is also known to reduce immune systems and so the sleep deprived have a higher chance of catching whatever is going around the office. We are also gaining greater understanding of the relationship between sleep and mental health.

It is preferable for everyone if the issue can be resolved before it reaches the point that it is having a long-term effect on health and mental wellbeing. Being willing to help your employees is only half the challenge, how can businesses spot sleep deprivation in their staff? According to Public Health England, poor sleep can present in the following ways in the workplace:

• Reduced performance

• Increased sickness and absence

• Poor memory

• Bad mood

• Loss of concentration

• Reduced communication

• Increased caffeine consumption

• Greater risk taking


While sleep is, of course a largely personal issue, sleep deprivation can have significant, costly and far-reaching effects on businesses. So, employers need to take it seriously.

Business in the Community and Public Health England have joined forces to create the Sleep and Recovery Toolkit.
In their Actions for Employers they suggest:

Educate – Offer training to managers and employees on the importance of adequate sleep. Explain the range and limitations of support that can be offered by your organisation. If necessary, bring in external support.

Communicate – Make sure that encouraging adequate sleep is a core factor of any health and wellbeing policy. Spread the word that the issue is not simply personal and encourage employees to pinpoint causes of sleep deprivation that can be resolved in the workplace or with the support of the business.

Facilitate – Understand how the workplace influences employee’s sleep and work to manage those. Recognise causes of stress and work to reduce them. For example, be mindful of overtime requests, or expectations on staff to check email 24/7. Engage with occupational health specialists to ensure that the working environment is not contributing to lack of sleep.

An organisation that is sleep aware can work to reduce the macho culture that celebrates sleep deprivation and presents sending and receiving midnight emails as dedication.
While many of today’s work ethics and economics require everyone to tighten their belts, businesses should be mindful of the pressures they are placing on their employees. They need to consider their job requirements versus their employee’s health needs. The line between work-life and home-life is increasingly blurred. If work creeps into an employee’s personal time, resulting in sleep deprivation, the negative effects of lack of sleep will begin to cost the business, sooner or later.