To mark World Menopause Day on the 18th of October and Menopause Awareness Month, Sarah Buxton, HR and employment solicitor and director of Buxton Coates Solicitors, makes some suggestions as to how employers can support employees struggling with the symptoms.
My main role is to offer advice to practice owners and managers with the drafting of bespoke associate, hygienist and therapist agreements. However, I am also able to help with the day-to-day management of the team. Having a well-managed team is crucial as it not only prevents problems from escalating, but also ensures the team is happy, which usually means it’s a profitable team too.
As October is Menopause Awareness Month it’s appropriate to be looking at ways employers and managers can support members of their team who may be going through the menopause or the perimenopause.
Encourage open conversations
As an employer, this is an important subject and you need to be having open conversations about it. However, the menopause can still be a taboo subject for some people. Indeed, some individuals may even be reluctant to discuss the menopause at home with close family members, let alone in the workplace. So, it’s essential to foster an open, positive culture in respect of the menopause, as up to a third of women will experience severe menopausal symptoms that affect their quality of life.
The dental industry is female dominated so many people working in it are likely to be affected by the menopause at some point, either directly or indirectly. By developing a greater understanding of the menopause and perimenopause, not only can we reduce the risk of an employment tribunal claim, but we can also help individuals who may be suffering in silence.
Some of the symptoms of menopause and perimenopause can be obvious, such as hot sweats and fatigue. However, others may be less so and could almost appear hidden. This is especially true of what’s often described as ‘brain fog’ where sufferers can experience difficulty finding the right word or concentrating. In some instances, this can influence the quality of their work, which in turn can cause issues in the workplace.
Policy is key
One way to build a culture where people feel able to have open conversations about the menopause is to develop a workplace policy about it. When you introduce that workplace policy to the team, either during a team meeting, or in one-to-one meetings, it can act as a signal to show team members that you are there to listen to and help with any issues they may have.
Encouraging open conversations will help to de-stigmatise menopause-related issues. So, it’s important to take the time to discuss what is happening in your team members’ lives at home or in the workplace to find out how you can support them if needed. It’s often during these conversations that an employee will tell you if they are going through the menopause.
Once you have that information, then you can look at ways you can help them either in the practice or through an occupational health referral. In the practice you may be able to make life easier for them through a change of uniform and providing them with a fan, or even by just encouraging them to go for a walk at lunchtime. Some people will find their work life is improved by a few simple adjustments.
However, you will need to conduct regular health and safety risk assessments. The Health and Safety Executive website has several health and safety risk assessments on there that you can download for your own use.
Make use of champions
You may wish to consider introducing a menopause and wellbeing champion. So, if someone in the practice has already completed the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course, they may already have been introduced to the topic of the menopause and how to deal with it, because as well as physical symptoms there can be mental health ones as well.
However, if you don’t already have a wellbeing champion or someone who has completed the MHFA course, then they are worth considering. This is a hot topic at the moment for employment lawyers. There have been several cases in the employment tribunal where employees have won because their employer was unaware the employee was going through the menopause and that it was affecting their performance at work. In these cases, the employee was able to show they were discriminated against.
So, it’s important to consider how you support your employees going through the menopause, not just for their sakes, but for you own too.
Sarah Buxton specialises in acting exclusively for dentists, dental managers and dental practice owners in all aspects of HR and employment law and is a director at Buxton Coates Solicitors Ltd. Sarah advises dental practices on managing and motivating their staff, dealing with sickness absence, assisting with making changes to employment contracts and, if needed, how to bring the employment relationship to an end.