In the UK, women are 51% of our population and 71% of those are working and as it has become the norm to work for longer, many will go through menopause whilst they’re still working.
Typically, 47% of the workplace are women who are around 45-55, the age where menopause usually begins. It’s worth noting however that 1% of people who are going through menopause are under the age of 40, which adds an even bigger pool of women that have their work life affected because of menopause.
1 in 1,000 women go through menopause before the age of 30 and 1 in 10,000 women go through it before the age of 20, for a number of reasons. Some of these being surgical inducement (a hysterectomy for example), chemotherapy, family history and lifestyle factors eg. smoking. Many people may not know that early menopause is a possibility unless specifically discussed with a health professional, so it can cause significant distress.
It’s easy to generalise menopause as having your period stop, not being fertile anymore and hot flushes. The other common symptoms are not widely understood leaving women often unaware of what to expect as the symptoms start to occur. There are several symptoms that can affect a woman on a daily basis and can leave women struggling to cope. These include low mood, difficulty sleeping and problems with memory for example. Not all of the symptoms are physical though, a lot of women struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues.
In 2019, menopause specialists Forth with Life conducted a survey exploring Menopause in the Workplace and they found that 90% of women said that their workplace doesn’t offer any form of Menopause support. Of those that did have some sort of support, 5% offer free advice, 3% have policies in place and 3% of line managers are given menopause support training.
With the number of women going through menopause increasing within the workplace over time, it’s becoming even more important to make sure that management know how to support them at work.
Some women will know what they need help with during this period of their lives and will come to you with questions and want to discuss potential changes to their job or support that they may need. However, there will be many women who need you as manager to lead the way and make the changes necessary to allow them to be comfortable whilst working, partly because they don’t know how to approach the subject or are perhaps worried about be treated unfairly.
But what are some of the things that need to come first? Things can’t truly change unless attitudes change first.
Some of the things you can do to help employees or colleagues are:
Although it’s easy when someone is struggling to want to jump in and change everything for them, sometimes that’s not what they need. If an employee comes to you about issues related to menopause or you can tell that they are struggling, ask them if they’re okay and let them know that you are there if they need you.
Approaching it like this means that the employee is aware that you are there for them if they need to talk to someone or need adjustments. It keeps the control in their hands however, because you are offering help but not forcing it on them without truly understanding what they might need. Forcing someone to accept help that they don’t need will do more harm than good because not only does it leave them with support they don’t need, but it will also give the impression that you don’t trust them to do their job or care about their needs. This can stop them from coming to you again with their further problems, menopause related or not.
If you have never had any experience with supporting someone through menopause, then it can be hard to know what to do. It’s a complex topic that everyone experiences differently. If you want to support your employees going through it, then you will need to understand some of the changes they may face and how your role as their manager comes in.
Doing the research surrounding menopause will mean that you can give your employees the right support because you know more about what they’re going through. It will also help you in making any significant changes to the job roles of your employees or the integral structure of the company.
One thing that is important to keep in mind though is that whilst it’s great to do the research and educate yourself, you mustn’t push it onto people. Menopause is a large and sensitive topic, and every woman experiences it differently. The fundamentals are the only thing that is universal for every woman, other than that they will all experience different symptoms, start going through menopause at different ages and arguably most importantly – all have different feelings about going through menopause.
Some will have had children, and some won’t, some will be okay with what they have, and some will have been hoping to have children or more children. Some will have confidence issues, and some will accept what is happening to them. All of these circumstances will affect a person’s relationship with menopause.
So, the best thing you can do as someone with responsibility for your employees, is educate yourself but don’t try to control their experience. You’re there to support them through it. For example, if someone is having HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and you’ve heard something about the treatment that is fearmongering and based on minimal experiences, it’s best not to bring it up.
With HRT there is no risk if given through the skin and only minor risks if given in tablet form. It also provides protection against heart disease, osteoporosis, and other things such as dementia. So even if you or your employees have their own opinions about menopause treatments, it’s important to make sure that these are not being bombarded onto your employee.
If they ask for help and advice, it’s great to open up these discussions and offer support. Just ensure that this is not being given to the employee in a way that is damaging rather than supportive, in particular if someone is giving advice that they weren’t asked for.
Many women going through menopause worry that they are being judged and seen differently. Some believe that they will be seen as less competent at their job because they might not be performing as well as before, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t do their job, just that they are going through something that is making it harder to.
Whilst most of the time these fears come from a place of anxiety, sometimes they come from the words and actions of their fellow employees.
If people don’t know what is happening in a colleague’s personal life, they may see certain behaviours and start to make assumptions. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to behaviours from those around them that are damaging and upsetting.
As a people manager or senior member of your management team, you have the opportunity to set the tone of how your employees approach menopause as a subject. Quash any unproductive conversations, don’t make an example of any employees going through menopause and if you do have any instances of workplace bullying then it’s important that your employees know its not okay.
We mentioned it briefly before, but one of the main ways you can implement a good menopause support system in your workplace is to have open discussions. If you don’t know what your employees need then how are you supposed to provide them with the right help?
Let them come to you with any problems they have and any ideas they have of how you might be able to support them. Or be prepared that they might just need someone to talk to in a privately.
You can also make sure that the workspace in general is open for these kinds of discussions, in a compassionate and helpful way. However, something to keep in mind when you are offering out this kind of support is to remember that not everyone will want it.
It’s better to not give it to those who don’t need it than it is to explain that you can’t give it to those who do.
It’s great to ensure that the general day-to-day life of your employees going through menopause is made easier by changing the attitudes of everyone in your company. Real change though, comes from adding official company policies and processes that can help guide management to provide beneficial menopause support.
If you have an employee website, you can even make sure that your menopause support plan is on there. Not only will this show your employees that you care about their wellbeing, but you can also use it to educate and create a more general awareness on the subject too. There are also options for employee benefits platforms that can help you host your policies and processes, giving your employees easy access.
Luckily, you are not alone in these efforts and there is a range of guides, information, and support networks that you can utilise to ensure that your menopause support is thorough and impactful.
Here are just some of the information pages and initiatives you can use to help you –
- Forth with Life: https://www.forthwithlife.co.uk/blog/menopause-in-the-workplace/
- Peppy, Healthcare and Wellbeing support: https://peppy.health/menopause/
- Menopause Support at Work, including training courses and resources for managers: https://www.menopausesupport.co.uk/?page_id=1192
- Menopause Support Symptom Checklist – https://menopausesupport.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MENOPAUSE-SYMPTOM-CHECKER-Nov-20.pdf
- Caboodle Technology Employee Benefit Providers – https://caboodle-technology.co.uk/
- BUPA Early and Premature Menopause – https://www.bupa.co.uk/newsroom/ourviews/early-menopause-fertility
Some suggestions for ways you can practically support your employees are:
- Changes in their role to help them
- Allow for flexible working or allowing them to reduce their working hours if this helps to combat fatigue
- Making them comfortable with accommodations like turning the heating down or giving them more control of when the windows are open
- Letting them get some fresh air when possible
- Access to employee benefits that can help make things easier for them like menopause specific healthcare support and an employee assistance programme that will give them a 24/7 confidential support system. So not only are you helping them at work, but you’re ensuring that they know they have someone to talk to outside of work hours too.
These changes will not only help your employees to have an easier time amongst their colleagues, but it will also help to make being at work more comfortable.
Know your pathway of support
Whilst it’s important to make changes if they’re necessary and it’s also important to ensure your employees know who they can go to if they need extra support. An easy way to do this is to implement menopause support people into your company, just as many do with mental health.
Having access to this support network means that if an employee has a problem or something they want to talk about, that doesn’t necessarily need a manager, then they will know exactly where to go. Also, if they are going to a specific person or if someone that they have an established friendship with is their support, this will take some of the stress away as they know that they are going to be talking to a trusted confidant.
Menopause is a difficult topic to know how to approach and unfortunately it has been left out of many companies’ priorities for too long. We hope that this article helps you to find productive ways to improve the menopause conversation for your employees, current and future. If there’s one point that’s most important to remember it’s that menopause is different for everyone and each person going through it will have their own needs, be educated but be prepared to listen and provide flexibility.
There are many topics that are considered difficult to talk about in the workplace, including disability and taboo subjects which we’ve written about previously. We’ll have more articles like this available in the coming weeks!