Sarah White offers practical ways to support menopause in the workplace, both remotely and in the office.
Menopause is a completely normal phase in a woman’s life, but it doesn’t always come up naturally in conversation. Hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and other troublesome symptoms can affect all aspects of your daily life, including work performance and attendance.
New research has found that over 70% of women experiencing the menopause have no idea what support is available to them at work – this could either mean there is no support available to them or that they aren’t aware of it.
Research also found that a third of women (33%) were embarrassed speaking to their employer about menopausal symptoms, and a fifth (21%) were embarrassed to speak to their colleagues.
The menopause affects half of the population yet, for many, it is still considered a taboo topic.
It’s time to change this and put menopause on the top of the business agenda.
Break the taboo
It’s more important than ever to create an open culture where all your staff feel comfortable to speak up if they’re struggling with the menopause, both physically and emotionally.
The menopause affects half of the population yet, for many, it is still considered a taboo topic
Don’t wait for colleagues experiencing menopause to start discussions – instead, find ways to open these topics across the organisation.
You may find it useful to appoint a dedicated ‘menopause champion’ in the workplace, who arranges workshops and supports any colleagues who are struggling. Internal campaigns or webinars will also help to kick-start and normalise these important conversations.
Educate the whole team
Not everyone will be familiar with the effects of the menopause or what kind of support is available. An important step is to raise awareness by educating yourself and your team about what changes are common during this time of life, and offer lots of patience, understanding and support.
To start with, you may want to share links to useful online resources to help educate people on what the menopause is, and the symptoms associated with this condition.
If you’re a manager, you should treat the menopause with the same support and understanding as you would treat any other ongoing health problems affecting team members. Don’t offer medical advice but do offer support.
Create an environment with your direct reports where menopause can be talked about openly, without embarrassment. Have regular, informal one-to-one chats with your employees and encourage them to share any issues that could be affecting their workplace wellbeing.
The menopause can be a sensitive topic for some people – make sure any conversations are had in a private area – for example, in a meeting room if you’re in the office, or a one-to-one video call if you’re still working remotely.
It can also be helpful to share your own experience with the menopause – whether a personal experience, or that of someone you’re close to – but only if you’re comfortable doing so.
Develop a menopause framework
As well as education and creating open cultures, businesses should invest in services that support women.
Make it clear how your organisation supports menopausal women at work by introducing a policy or guidance document that outlines what you offer. Flexible working can really help people experiencing menopausal symptoms, especially when night sweats are at their height and exacerbating poor sleep. If you can offer it, make sure your employees are aware of this.
Having a designated support officer can help employees open-up if they’re struggling with their symptoms. Take this opportunity to review the facilities in your workplace, for example, access to fans or whether you offer access to washroom facilities like showers (where possible), too.
The last year has been tough on everyone’s mental health, but for women experiencing menopause, the pandemic, work pressures and anxiety or low mood that they’re already experiencing due to menopause may have been exacerbated. Anxiety can precipitate hot flushes, and during the pandemic, feeling hot can be even more worrying and hence an endless cycle.
Offering your employees both physical and emotional support through the menopause is incredibly important – if you’re able to, provide access to occupational health or EAPs (employee assistance programmes) for all, and of course allowing time for GP appointments is always essential. It could also be worth investing in specific menopause support for your colleagues.
Ensure any support your workplace offers is clearly communicated to all your employees.
While menopause may have been easier for some women to manage whilst working from home, night sweats is a common symptom which can lead to lack of sleep and fatigue.
Make sure you’re flexible to all your team’s needs, at all times, but especially as offices begin to open-up again. For example, be mindful of your team’s working hours and offer flexitime (if possible) or allow them to change meetings if they’re feeling unwell.
Supporting a colleague going through menopause
Some people may not want to talk about their experience with the menopause, but if they do, listen, sympathise and be patient. Don’t be embarrassed if a colleague opens-up, it’s often a big thing for them to work themselves up to discuss and can be a huge relief to share their experience.
Ask if your colleague needs anything – a simple chat can really help. You may also find it useful to educate yourself about what changes are common during this time of life, and offer lots of patience, understanding and support.
Taking some time to educate yourself about the common changes that occur during menopause can be useful, for both you and your menopausal colleagues – after all, it’s something that affects half of the population.
About the author
Sarah White is associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics