To mark Menopause Awareness Month, Business Development Manager, Shelley Clegg, caught up with HR and employment solicitor, Sarah Buxton, to find out about the sorts of things practices can do to support team members experiencing menopausal symptoms
SC: Why is it important that we should be talking about supporting colleagues with the menopause, Sarah?
SB: Menopause, and how you can support your team members with it is one of the issues that should be on the agenda of most practice owners and managers at the moment. As an employer, it is something that we need to be having very open conversations about.
It is important to be aware of it because a third of women will experience severe menopausal symptoms that affect their quality of life. Some of these symptoms can be quite obvious, such as hot sweats, and fatigue, but some of them may be almost hidden. People suffering from the menopause have also experienced changes to their ability to think clearly and have described it as a brain fog. And obviously this can then affect the quality of their work and may cause issues in the workplace.
Unfortunately, the menopause is still a bit of a taboo subject. Quite often, individuals don’t even feel able to discuss the menopause at home with close family members, let alone in the workplace. That’s why we really need to develop an open, positive culture in respect of the menopause.
We really do need to understand the menopause, because it affects a demographic within the dental industry. And therefore, what we need to do is help individuals who may be suffering in silence. By doing this, it can also help reduce the risk of an employment tribunal claim.
SC: How can practices and employers help?
SB: I’ve already mentioned that it’s really important to bring it into the practice and have open conversations about it. And we can do this by developing a workplace policy around the menopause. To introduce that workplace policy into the team, you could either do this during a team meeting, or you may prefer to do it on a one-to-one basis. By introducing the policy and talking about it openly, it can be a trigger to help people understand that you are there to listen to any issues that they may have and may encourage them to come forward.
Our aim should be to destigmatise the issues surrounding menopause by encouraging open conversations. And this is all about taking time out with individuals to discuss what is happening in their lives, or in the workplace, and finding out how you can help if they need any support. And quite often during this type of conversation, an employee will tell you if they are going through the menopause. Once you have that information, then you can look at how you can help them, or whether you may need to refer them for an occupational health assessment.
Sometimes it may be that you can help them with something relatively simple such as a change of uniform and providing them with a fan or even encouraging them to go for a walk at lunchtime. The adjustments you make will depend on what Occupational Health say, or what that individual believes that they need.
As well as this, you need to conduct regular health and safety risk assessments. The Health and Safety Executive website has numerous examples of health and safety risk assessments you can use. And I would encourage you to download and use them on a regular basis. Just go to the home page and type ‘menopause’ into the search bar to find them.
SC: What else might practices do to help?
SB: Another thing that you can do within the practice is introduce a menopause and wellbeing champion. The symptoms of menopause can have an effect on people’s mental wellbeing as well as their physical health. So, if you already have a Mental Health First Aider, they may have touched on this sort of thing as part of the course they’ve already been on, or they may feel able to help someone struggling with the menopause. If you don’t already have somebody who you believe could be a wellbeing champion, or who has been on a Mental Health First Aid course, then I would encourage you to get someone trained.
SC: What consequences could practices suffer if they don’t make an effort to support employees going through the menopause?
SB: This is a hot topic at the moment for employment lawyers, because there have been some discrimination cases at employment tribunals where employees have won their case. This is because employers did not realise that their employee was going through the menopause and that it was having a day-to-day effect on their performance at work. It’s so important that we start thinking about it now and put the correct measures in place.
My main role is to help dental practice owners and practice managers, not only with the drafting of bespoke associate agreements, hygienist and therapists’ agreements, but also to help with the day-to-day management of the team. It’s really important that the team is managed well, because not only can it stop problems from escalating, it also ensures that you have a happy team, which usually means you have a profitable team. I’m always happy to help people in respect of introducing measures and policies at work.
SC: Thank you very much for your time, Sarah
Sarah Buxton is a solicitor who 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 FTA Law. 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.