One of the UK’s largest universities is seeking to address one of the last “taboo” subjects in the workplace by encouraging women to speak to managers about menopause-related symptoms.
Under new guidelines adopted by the University of Manchester, the institution has officially recognised the menopause as an “occupational health issue” and pledged to “support women during this change of life”.
Staff who are experiencing symptoms at work are “encouraged to discuss their needs with their manager if they feel able to do so” or, alternatively, to contact the human resources department for a confidential discussion.
The university, which has about 12,000 employees, has said that it will “accommodate reasonable adjustments…where it is possible to do so”, which could include offering later start times when requested, more breaks during the working day or desk fans to create a “more comfortable working environment, taking into account temperature and lighting to help women manage their body temperature”.
Manchester is also holding a number of awareness sessions about the issue, which typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, including a “menopause cafe”, which allows women to discuss their experiences openly.
Gemma Dale, policy manager at Manchester’s human resources department, said that the menopause was rarely discussed in university policies even though it affects thousands of the 238,000 women who work in UK higher education. Only a handful of UK universities mention the menopause on their websites, with the University of Leicester publishing guidance in this area in November.
“Universities offer a lot of policies to help the parents of young children or staff with caring commitments, but you don’t hear the menopause discussed as much,” said Ms Dale, who pointed out that 30 per cent of Manchester’s female staff were over the age of 50.
“I’ve heard the menopause described as ‘one of the last social taboos’, and it’s a very personal issue for a lot of women, so many don’t raise it with their line managers, particularly if these managers are male or younger,” Ms Dale added.
Although many women did not need any assistance or require medical intervention with the menopause, others had struggled to keep working with symptoms and had not felt able to speak about their situation, Ms Dale said.
“We’ve had a lot of women come forward recently just to say ‘thank you’ for highlighting this issue and creating networks where women can support other women,” she said. “It’s something most people are managing, but sometimes they are suffering – and we need to recognise this.”
On the support offered to women, Ms Dale said that most women “do not need a great deal of support” and instead generally requested “mild adjustments”.
“These small adjustments can make a big difference, but creating opportunities to talk openly about this is also crucial,” she added.