From hot flushes to brain fog to insomnia and irritability, the menopause can come with 48 different symptoms and affects all women differently.
There has been new focus in the UK around this time of life and the negative impact this can have on women’s lives and particularly around their careers with many reports focusing on how many women leave the workforce due to menopausal symptoms.
Traditionally, there has been a lot of taboo around discussing the menopause, especially in the workforce, but fortunately the tide is now starting to turn.
I believe there are three key areas employers should focus on to ensure that employees feel more supported in relation to the menopause.
Normalize the conversation
Previous generations didn’t have the amazing opportunity to be supported at work like we are nowadays, so we need to ensure we start talking about the menopause in as many places and in as many ways as possible.
It can’t be a taboo topic any longer that very few people only talk about to their most trusted friends. Menopause is a subject everyone needs to become more comfortable talking about as we know that it is impacting so many people’s lives.
If we get this right, future generations will really feel the positive ripple effect. We want future generations to be able to talk about menopause in the same way they talk about what they are watching on Netflix.
Conversations around the menopause are now really only just beginning, but we urgently need to tackle the stigma around it. Research has revealed that many women going through menopause want to be understood, not to suffer in silence, and that they’re asking for support with the physical and emotional symptoms they’re facing.
Further insight from the research also highlighted that less than one in ten women (7%) talked to their employer or line manager about going through the menopause or perimenopause, and 25% of women believe workplace policies and rights around menopause need to change.
So what are the take outs from these statistics? The menopause should no longer be something to be feared, and everyone should go into this key life stage feeling supported and truly valued.
Employers can play a big part in that. They need to really champion the menopause and communicate to all employees their commitment to support everyone impacted by the menopause, not just women going through this stage.
Employers should certainly be open to getting help to do this – Working with partners like Gen M and Henpicked can really help to ensure menopause policies and measures are relevant, up-to-date and current.
Employees can help each other too, the menopause shouldn’t be treated as an illness or a medical condition, it is a natural life stage. Ideally employees will chat to other employees and build a real sense of community around the topic.
Since my own diagnosis of being perimenopausal, and understanding why I felt the way I did, I feel a real sense of paying it forward, as my line manager and a friend did for me. Several employees and friends have shared their symptoms and we have shared top tips and things that have or haven’t worked for us, including by the photocopier.
But it’s important to bear in mind that not everyone experiences the menopause in the same way and people’s different cultures and backgrounds can mean that they have varying symptoms and comfort levels when talking about the menopause.
It’s also key to make sure that those who don’t want to talk about menopause in an open forum (or by the photocopier) have a safe space too; this is why there is a need for private workplace groups, which might be more suited to some employees. Across the business, there is a need for a weekly company huddle where hundreds of employees join a Zoom session to update on a variety of topics.
If any employers are thinking that this isn’t a topic their employees want to help with or want to talk about, they may well be very surprised.
Educate employees and managers
Education around the menopause is imperative for employers to be able to support employees, not just for those going through the menopause but for those who maybe supporting partners, family members or friends.
Many companies have worked hard to educate teams around mental health, often not something people talk about, let alone have trained employees on previously.
And yet so many companies have made fantastic traction in mental health by implementing policies and training, introducing Mental Health First aiders, and ensuring there is a real focus on employee wellbeing – it has been quite a cultural shift.
Now it’s time for the menopause, which is intrinsically linked to mental health and wellbeing, to be the next step forward.
Despite the menopause frequently being talked about as something that only affects women, it happens to people of differing genders, including trans men, who were assigned female gender at birth, and non-binary people, who identify as neither male or female.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone experiences the menopause in the same way, for example, Black and Latinx individuals can enter menopause earlier and experience more severe symptoms.
It is time that organizations commit to becoming a menopause-friendly employer and invest in training resources to help increase awareness and education for all our employees, not just the people team. Everyone must have an understanding.
Be flexible to different needs
Flexibility is also key; employers need to ensure that they are flexible to their employees’ needs, this will help with both engagement and performance.
From my own personal experience of being impacted by perimenopausal symptoms, if my employer had not supported me with flexibility in returning to work having taken some time out, I am not sure I would have been able to return and I would have been one of the one million women who are likely about to leave the workforce because of menopause symptoms.
Flexibility isn’t just about phasing someone back to work, but also about allowing people to work in the best environment and at the best time, when and where they know they will be at their best.
Lastly, it’s important for employers to remember that this isn’t something that just gets picked up for World Menopause Day in October and put down again, this is an always-on topic. This impacts everyone in the workplace in some way or another.
It’s great that World Menopause Day raises so much awareness, but we must make sure it isn’t a once-a-year event because that won’t create the change that is needed in the workplace.
As an employer, be open to asking your employees to help with keeping this as an always on topic, ask what support they want and how you can build on what you have introduced.
Remember to evaluate what you have introduced to check if it is still working as you wanted it to, if not think about adapting and changing and learn from what other employers are doing.
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