There are now fewer taboo workplace subjects, and we should talk about that

workplace taboosRewind even a few years and issues like mental health were not really talked about in the workplace. Now we’ve seen dramatic improvements around certain topics, we should ask what other areas of employees’ lives could employers help with? There’s been a lot of discussion around what employers can do to support women going through the menopause. Though the construction industry is a traditionally male dominated sector, NHS Employers says that “Menopause is not just a gender or age issue as it can impact on colleagues both directly and indirectly and it should therefore be considered as an organisational. issue.”

Mental health advisors Mindset Health points to research that states that 99 percent of women felt that menopause symptoms had negatively impacted their careers with nearly two thirds having to take time off. A survey commissioned for Davina McCall’s menopause documentaries found that a shocking 330, 000 women had left a job because of symptoms.

Fitzgerald Health lists a number of areas of policy implemented by Channel 4 which include access to flexible working arrangements, a private cool and quiet space, working environment assessments and paid leave. Another employer which has a menopause policy in place is creative agency Oglivy UK designed to raise awareness across the whole workforce. This includes private medical support, monthly meeting with colleagues to discuss menopause-related issues and visiting experts.

Spain made the headlines a few months ago when it became the first country in Europe to make moves towards legislating to allow workers to take menstrual leave. Under the proposals, three days of sick leave could be offered to those suffering painful periods, with a doctor’s note, extended to five days in certain circumstances. This is part of the country’s wider approach to menstruation and includes the abolition of the ‘tampon tax’ and introducing free hygiene products in schools and prisons. The draft bill also includes other women’s rights such as widening access to abortion for teenagers.

Another issue in terms of employment law is domestic abuse, says legal firm Farrer & Co, something that can of course affect both men and women. It says, “The pandemic has resulted in victims being unable to access support in the same way as before, being confined largely to the home and unable to attend work or school, or see friends or other support.” During lockdown the problem increased sharply – calls and contacts logged on Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline (NDAH) for instance rose by an average of 61%.

At the beginning of 2021 the government published a report and an open letter to the government asking employers to “look at what more your organisation can do to help survivors of domestic abuse”. Key recommendations included raising awareness of domestic abuse as a workplace issue, implementing a workplace policy around the subject with practical measures such as counselling, paying salary into a separate account and time to make calls during work hours. It also recommends the appointment of Domestic Abuse Workplace Champions who would be trained to spot the signs and act as a signpost to appropriate support.

As well as victims of domestic abuse, employers have a role to play as far as the perpetrators are concerned too, so says conciliation body ACAS adding, “Employers also have a duty of care towards employees who may be perpetrators of abuse, for instance in supporting them to seek help to address their behaviours. Tackling the issue proactively can help to improve staff wellbeing, productivity and retention.” Considerations in that instance say Farrer’s include whether the misconduct was linked to their employment (for example, if it was at work or the perpetrator used the employer’s equipment to carry out the abuse) any impact on the victim or other colleagues and any impact on the employer’s reputation.

As with many of these issues, it’s about looking at where the responsibility of an employer begins and where it ends.  Employees are crucial to a business. As such their welfare is paramount, whether that’s in more traditional scenarios like safety on a construction site to the formerly taboo topics mentioned.