Building understanding of the menopause

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Written by Ryan Higginson on 1 November 2022 in Opinion
Opinion

As a follow up to World Menopause Month, Ryan Higginson offers valuable insight on how to support menopause when your business is hybrid

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) designating October World Menopause Month, it is worth remembering that menopause symptoms affect more than 75% of women. Of these, 25% report severe symptoms, according to research from the British Menopause Society.
 
In the last year, menopause has reached the front page of national newspapers, and one MP-backed report has called for amendments to the Equality Act that would require businesses to make adjustments for employees experiencing menopause.
 
Over the same period, one million women could have been forced out of the workplace due to the severity of their menopause symptoms, making it impossible for them to work without support. Meanwhile, 63% of women say their workplaces still have no policy in place to support them.
 
Moreover, the menopause is still a difficult conversation in the workplace for too many women experiencing symptoms. A study by MetLife found two in three employees still feel uncomfortable talking about menopause with their manager. And when their only connection with their manager or team is virtual, it’s not easy finding the right opportunity to raise the subject.
 
Managers should ask, respectfully, what would help women living through the menopause to feel supported
Indeed, hybrid working has added another layer of complexity to this issue. 43% of women experiencing symptoms want flexible working, but the removal of regular in-person contact presents its own challenges. It can be harder for managers to recognise signs that employees are experiencing symptoms, businesses may need to provide digital versions of support groups and events, and it can be isolating for women suffering with symptoms while working remotely.
 
Steps to progress
 
So far, 600 employers have signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge. Many others share the intention to support women going through the menopause but are unsure where to start. There are four steps that provide a framework for managers of hybrid businesses to create a formalised support programme for the menopause.
 
1. Listen
 
Like many deeply personal experiences, if you haven’t gone through the menopause yourself or have supported someone going through it, it’s incredibly difficult to understand. Therefore, creating opportunities for employees to share their experiences – such as a forum, networking group, or café-style session that can meet online as well as in person – can provide invaluable opportunities to listen and learn from those with first-hand knowledge. They can also provide a platform for women worried about experiencing menopause symptoms to voice any concerns of their own.
 
Managers should ask, respectfully, what would help women living through the menopause to feel supported. An online survey can keep responses anonymous, or you can assign an ambassador who can gather responses for you. Regular touchpoints across the business are critical and creating a mechanism for frequent feedback on behaviours, both supportive and otherwise, can be helpful. 
 
2. Educate
 
Education and training are absolutely fundamental yet just 11% of managers have been given training on the menopause, according to one study. Many are therefore shocked when they eventually learn about the range of symptoms women can experience during perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. For instance, 70% suffer from mental ill-health during this time, many are more prone to falls, while some suffer from tinnitus, vertigo, and dizziness.
 
Furthermore, while the average age for the menopause to begin in UK women is currently 51, and while women over 50 are the fastest-growing workplace demographic in the UK, it’s important to recognise that symptoms can begin well before this age and continue long after this. Companies therefore require policies, behaviours, and support systems that cater to multiple age groups. 
 
Increasing their own awareness helps managers to understand and respond sensitively to this range of potential health issues. To improve their own understanding and those of their wider workforce, managers may invite external speakers to webinars and team meetings, bringing fresh, expert perspectives and providing training and advice.
 
Similarly, podcasts, TV shows, social channels, websites, booklets, and brochures can all provide valuable resources that will suit a hybrid workforce. There is a wealth of information in the public domain, so lack of knowledge can no longer be an excuse for poor company policy.
 
3. Talk
 
Until people feel sufficiently supported to talk openly and without embarrassment about the menopause, nothing will change. Fostering a culture that recognises and celebrates equity and inclusion helps create the right environment for these conversations.
 
Supporting ‘psychological safety’, for instance, enables employees to be their true selves at work without worrying about the impression this makes on others. This is even more important when teams are hybrid, located disparately and missing the day-to-day visual check-ins that occur more naturally in person.
 
Similarly, normalising the menopause and the conversations around it will make it easier for employees to raise issues and seek the support they need, without fear of being personally or professionally persecuted.
 
4. Act
 
Organisations need to commit to the changes they pledge to make, setting small goals, checking progress, recognising milestones, and remaining open to continuing change.
 
This may seem an obvious point, but one study found that 30% of women who requested adjustments within the workplace saw no action taken to put those adjustments in place.
 
Businesses that properly support women experiencing the menopause should be proud to do so because of its multifaceted benefits. Indeed, with a recent Women and Equalities Committee report finding that one in three women miss work due to menopause symptoms, businesses should recognise their own interests in supporting women’s mental, physical, and emotional health.
 
Businesses should also target Menopause Accreditation, which we are proud to be working towards at Pitney Bowes. This achievement rubberstamps a company’s credentials as a supportive employer on this issue. But even this should not be a cue for complacency. There is always more for managers to learn and having the right framework in place to support women living through the menopause requires an ongoing effort.
 
Hopefully, this commitment from businesses will help as many employees as possible to feel supported and valued when they experience the menopause – whether they have adopted hybrid working or not.
 
Ryan Higginson, vice president and UK/ROI country leader, Pitney Bowes

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