Avanti West Coast under fire for menopause gift bags

The gift bag contained a jelly baby sweet “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off”

Avanti West Coast has faced criticism after its employee support group offered staff a gift bag that rail union representatives described as demeaning and insulting.

The gift bag was intended to help support conversations about the menopause, and contained a fan, a pencil “to write down things you might forget”, a paperclip “to help you keep it all together”, a tissue “if you’re feeling a bit emotional” and a jelly baby sweet “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off”, the Guardian reported. 

Read more: Why menopause matters in the workplace

Avanti’s menopause support group comprises female employees who were themselves going through the menopause. 

Amantha King, a workplace menopause consultant, told HR magazine that employers should take responsibility for their organisation’s menopause strategy rather than relying on internal employee groups to provide support for those going through menopause. 

She said: “Menopause falls within diversity, equity and inclusion policies and strategy, so discharging responsibility to employee resource groups (ERGs) needs to be decided based on how well the individuals have been trained on creating inclusive menopause cultures. 

“Employers need to invest in menopause experts who can advise on creating menopause cultures and not expect ERGs to be a cheaper way of ticking a box.” 

King continued that not investing in menopause training would risk action taken to support those going through the menopause being inappropriate or harmful. 

She added: “Without supporting menopause competency and appropriateness, there is a higher risk of causing offence through inappropriate language and creating barriers to inclusivity.” 

Read more: Menopause ruled a disability in Direct Line tribunal

Speaking to HR magazine, Theresa Winters, senior HR manager at Santander UK, explained that it is critical for employers to create a culture that is inclusive of people experiencing menopausal symptoms. 

She said: “It is critical for employers to create a psychologically safe workplace where everyone can talk about the menopause openly, and individuals can speak up and get the support they need. 

“Whether that be sharing surveys to understand experience, forming internal support groups to help those going through menopause, or introducing menopause as an absence reason, it’s important to listen to your people to find out what’s right for them, and to provide a range of ways for them to access support.” 

Winters noted that, at Santander, more than 800 employees use an employee health and wellness app that offers specialist clinical support for people experiencing menopausal symptoms, as part of the organisation’s wider health offering.  

She added: “It’s also important to listen to other organisations that have menopause support in place, because when we work together, we can achieve even more to help our employees to thrive inside, and outside of work.”

While suggesting that employers offer menopause support, to better retain staff, Natasha​​​​ Letchford, senior associate at Wilsons Solicitors LLP, told HR magazine: "There is currently no legal obligation for employers to support employees going through the menopause unless the effects on a particular employee are so severe that they meet the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or constitute a health and safety concern."

Letchford pointed to the Acas Guide on Menopause at Work as a resource for employers.

She added: "Employers could also provide practical adjustments for staff, such as allowing additional breaks, providing a private area to rest, allowing home working or time off or allowing staff to control their working environment such as having a desk next to an opening window or allowing them to control the temperature if they're in a private office."

A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast commented: "The gift bag was designed and created by our own in-house Menopause Support Group, and derived from a colleague's suggestion based on her own personal experience.

"It is part of a much wider and well-used package of support provided by Avanti West Coast, as part of our commitment to be a proud Menopause-Friendly Employer."