As we approach World Menopause Day, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what menopause means, why it’s so important we talk about it, and what employers can do to support menopause in their workplaces.
It can be easy to think in stereotypes in terms of menopause, with labels like ‘old’, ‘past it’, and ‘moody’ previously used in the media. Fortunately, we are moving into a new era, one in which menopause is becoming recognised for what it is. A natural phase in every woman’s life.
There is still much work to be done, however. Gradually, we are seeing more and more forward-thinking organisations adopting a new approach to menopause, introducing training, raising awareness and – vitally – ensuring the right support is in place at work.
Why? Because times are changing and so is the way we work. The UK is an ageing population. Around one in three of our workforce is over 50, with women representing about half. In fact, menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic. It makes sense for employers to offer them support as they transition through menopause.
There is no current law for organisations to have a menopause policy. But the Equality Act 2010 covers menopause under three of its protected characteristics: age, sex or even disability discrimination. And tribunals for discrimination due to menopause are on the up – something which every employer wants to avoid.
More about menopause
There can sometimes be confusion about exactly what menopause is. Essentially, it’s
a natural phase in every woman’s life when her balance of hormones change and ultimately her periods stop. The average age for this to happen is 51, it can be sooner or later than this, due to surgery or for other reasons.
But women don’t just wake up one day having reached menopause. Most start to notice changes during their 40s in the time leading up to menopause – this is known as perimenopause.
Some women may simply sail through it and barely notice. But three in four women will experience symptoms, and one in four with serious symptoms. which can last for years.
What kind of symptoms do I mean? They can be physical or psychological, or both, and can change and vary over the years. In our survey of menopause in the workplace, the top symptoms women felt negatively affected their work were fatigue, hot flushes, difficulty focusing or concentrating, anxiety and worry, and insomnia. You can understand how they affect work.
A proactive approach
The first thing that I would urge all employers to do is to make menopause an open topic for discussion. Let’s get rid of the taboo and instead encourage and instigate conversations at work, so every single employee feels comfortable and at ease in talking about menopause.
There are lots of ways to do this. Training events can raise awareness and educate colleagues about menopause. Company intranets and internal social media like Yammer make excellent forums for informal discussions. Marking occasions like World Menopause Day – 18 October – can add context and help you get the conversations started.
Not everyone will feel comfortable talking about their own personal experience and line managers must be properly trained to offer the right support to colleagues sensitively and confidentially.
Women experiencing symptoms may really benefit from a few simple workplace adjustments. These could range from having a desk fan or access to a quiet space to changes and flexibility in working hours. My experience is small changes can make a big difference, even knowing your line manager and colleagues understand helps no-end.
Making menopause a workplace issue
Earlier, I talked about avoiding stereotypes. It’s time for us all to shift our mindset – menopause is not just for women. Knowing about and understanding menopause is something that all colleagues will benefit from. I know from my own experiences that men are equally keen to learn, so they can support partners, family, friends and colleagues too.
It isn’t difficult to support menopause at work. It isn’t costly. Most women will only need support on a short-term basis, and you are helping them to be the best they can be, at all times. But it is responsible, commercially sound, and should be part of every organisation’s wellbeing portfolio.
Let’s move from the bygone days of sweeping menopause under the carpet, and step into a new era. One where all colleagues are supported at work, where menopause is simply seen as a normal part of life, and one where women can speak up and ask for help if they need it.
Happy World Menopause Day!
Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk