British Standards Authority (BSI) launches menopause standard

Posted on June 21, 2023
Posted by Marion Kennedy

Last month the British Standards Authority (BSI) released new guidance to help employers support and retain employees experiencing menopause or menstruation. BSI points out that by 2025 there could be more than a billion women experiencing menopause, with a large number of them still actively working. Additionally, research has shown that one in ten UK women quit their jobs because of menopause symptoms, and eight in ten say their employer hasn’t shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy. 

As an employer it’s important that you don’t lose the experience and expertise of these women, as well as their ability to be role models for younger women and bring a different perspective to business decisions. You may also be going through menopause yourself, and it’s important to manage your symptoms well, so you can stay healthy and happy at work. 

The new standard released by BSI was developed to help businesses identify misunderstandings, misconceptions and taboos around menopause and provide examples of steps to take to better support women going through menopause or menstruation. It discusses a range of ways to support your employees at work, from physical and environment changes to role adjustments, culture and policy changes, and training.

Supporting those going through menopause, perimenopause or menstrual symptoms

Although menopause most commonly affects women aged between 45 and 55, anyone with a menstrual cycle can be affected at any age. As with many other medical conditions, the menopause affects different people differently, and can last for months or years. Symptoms can include problems with sleep, hot flushes, low mood and anxiety, muscle aches, problems with memory or concentration, heart palpitations, and more. 

There is no one-size-fits all approach to this subject, and the best way to support your staff is to educate yourself on what menopause and menstrual symptoms involve and how you can assist with alleviating these symptoms, as well as increasing awareness of the topic amongst your workforce and consulting with staff about how you can help them. Taking these steps will help to reduce stigma around these subjects, support your employees’ wellbeing and make your business a desirable place to work. 

The BSI standard recommends various steps employers can take to support staff; some examples are set out below. 

Physical aspects

Consider providing things like: 

  • quiet rest spaces; 
  • easy access to bathrooms and changing rooms, and where possible providing some self-contained toilets with wash basins inside the cubicles; 
  • access to menstrual products and hygiene disposal facilities; 
  • desk fans or heaters, as well as air conditioning, blinds and curtains to help regulate temperatures; 
  • opportunities to sit down or stand up and walk around if the role involves a large amount of standing or sitting; and
  • comfortable uniforms, ideally made from breathable natural fabrics, with a range of sizes available. 

It’s a good idea to assess the impact of any strong smells in the workplace, as some employees might experience hypersensitivity to smells as a symptom of menopause. You should also review your risk assessments to check they include a reproductive health and wellbeing component as well as physical and mental health assessments. 

For risk assessments which help you take steps to protect your staff members’ health and safety, including considerations for women going through peri/menopause, you can use:

You should amend these risk assessments as appropriate for your business. 

Policy guidance and practice

You should have clear and consistent guidance about how menstrual and peri/menopausal health issues will be addressed at work. It’s good practice to consult with a range of your staff members (in a private and confidential manner) when you’re introducing any new policies, to ensure you’re all on the same page and get any further comments or suggestions they may have. 

Suggestions by BSI include (but aren’t limited to):

  • confirming that absence or attendance processes allow for peri/menopausal and menstrual symptoms and experiences;
  • making sure that your recruitment, training and progression policies are inclusive of those who may be experiencing peri/menopausal or menstrual symptoms;
  • cultivating an inclusive culture that takes these health conditions into account and doesn’t tolerate bullying, jokes, or discrimination; 
  • considering designating a senior leader and/or menstruation and menopause advocates in the workplace to be responsible for advocating for people going through peri/menopause or menstrual symptoms, and providing staff with education and training on actions they should adopt; and
  • conducting regular confidential check-ins with staff, or those who have requested it, and provide training to managers on symptoms and how to discuss and manage them. 

Work hazards and environment

The BSI standard includes suggestions of ways to change work designs and work environments to make them more suitable for those experiencing menopause or menstrual symptoms. You may wish to consider changing a role’s working hours, location, shift duration and scheduling. For example, BSI suggests:

  • providing options to take more breaks throughout the day (eg by splitting lunch breaks into shorter intervals) to help staff recover from pain or hot flush symptoms;
  • considering flexible start and finish times and/or flexi-leave where a staff member can work longer hours on one day in order to take a day off or take shorter days when needed; 
  • consulting staff on what flexibility they’d prefer and how they’d like to manage their symptoms; and
  • assessing whether certain tasks can be re-allocated to reduce stress.

When deciding what steps to take to protect staff who are going through peri/menopause, you should bear in mind cultural differences between your staff as well as any disabilities an employee may have, and be aware that trans men, non-binary and gender non-conforming people can menstruate and experience menopause. You should use gender-neutral language when discussing these issues, provide gender-neutral toilets with bins inside the cubicles, provide menstrual products in all toilet facilities or in discreet locations, and appoint advocates who have a good knowledge of gender inclusivity. 

If your business has limited resources and no dedicated HR department, you can still make a big impact on your organisation’s culture by implementing as many steps as practicable. Other solutions BSI suggests for small businesses include organising virtual workshops or arranging for staff to attend webinars on these topics, making sure to appoint menstruation and menopause advocates, creating a wellbeing page or hub internally to help employees find support online and recommending community support groups, making use of any government funding for SMEs and/or providing inclusivity training to the staff member responsible for recruitment. 

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