A desk fan isn’t enough: How to support your menopausal workforce
Menopausal women make up a large portion of the workforce. Cathy Hastie tells us how employers and organisations can better support them
In my role in Human Resources, I have had many conversations with women struggling with disruptive symptoms and doing their best to work effectively and educating line managers about the effects of menopause on women in the workplace. Hot flushes are a topic of conversation and the most known symptom of menopause, but they are by no means the most disruptive symptom.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham interviewed women experiencing menopause symptoms in the workplace and compiled a list of the top ten of most troublesome symptoms.
Top ten workplace menopause symptoms
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Feeling low/depressed
- Sleep disturbances
- Hot flushes
- Mood swings
Many of the employers I work with are not aware of the cognitive symptoms experienced by menopausal women. Concentration, tiredness, and memory are critical to functioning effectively in most jobs and when they are affected by menopause, can cause stress and anxiety if they are not supported effectively.
"Many employers are still not clear about the full range of symptoms impacting menopausal workers and how best to support them"
The conversation about menopause at work has built up momentum over the past few years and is more mainstream than it has ever been, but many employers are still not clear about the full range of symptoms impacting menopausal workers and how best to support them.
What employers can do: Where to start?
A policy or set of guidelines is an important and basic step to starting the conversation
An ideal starting point is to make a commitment to menopausal workers and set out what they can expect through having a menopause policy or guidelines. While this is a basic minimum for menopause support, if it is introduced and embedded well, it helps to kick the conversation off.
Creating the right culture
How an organisation positions menopause, can have an impact on how women will experience their menopause at work. Research shows that if an organisation is not accommodating to their menopausal workers and they feel like they don’t belong, their symptoms may be worse.
"Research shows that if an organisation is not accommodating to their menopausal workers and they feel like they don’t belong, their symptoms may be worse"
Consider running a survey to gain a better understanding of how menopausal workers experience the culture.
Menopause affinity groups
Affinity groups can help give a sense of safety and belonging, as well as acting as a link with the organisation's leaders
An important part of feeling comfortable and thriving at work is to find your tribe. Affinity groups promote a sense of belonging and are a safe space for workers with similar characteristics to share experiences. They are often organised initially by the organisation but are usually run by the group members. They can also act as a link with the organisation’s leaders and provide a collective voice on how menopause programmes and initiatives.
Recognise the differences!
Every woman’s menopause journey is different, and other characteristics can also play a part. Research shows Black and Southeast Asian women may go through menopause up to seven years earlier than Caucasian women and suffer some symptoms more severely.
"Research shows Black and Southeast Asian women may go through menopause up to seven years earlier than Caucasian women and suffer some symptoms more severely"
Underlying conditions such as diabetes and thyroid conditions can also make menopause symptoms worse. Oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all have a big role to play in cognitive functioning. Neurodiverse people also report being affected by menopause symptoms as these key hormones decline during menopause.
Education in the workplace is a vital step to supporting menopausal employees
Everyone needs to understand what menopause is, and how it affects women. In my experience of working with employers, it is still a concerning fact that many women have so little knowledge about menopause, or only have very basic knowledge which is often surrounded by urban myths. Good quality education provided by professionals is a must alongside educating managers on how to support and have conversations that may be a little uncomfortable.
Menopause mentors are a great way of helping menopausal women and managers navigate difficult conversations, and to champion knowledge and a culture where menopausal women feel that they belong. Having a network throughout the organisation makes sure that there is a consistent approach to menopause.
Talent and performance
Organisations often have a traditional approach to talent and performance and often measure performance over a long period of time, usually a year. Menopausal women bring critical skills, knowledge and experience built over years in the workplace. Retention of the talent pool is key to organisations and cannot easily be replaced.
Employers should recognise that we are not all the same. Adopt a more flexible approach and offer regular support through coaching and mentoring can help to navigate times when symptoms are troublesome. Coaching and mentoring are also important to helping career progression as menopausal women often lack confidence and the self-advocacy skills needed for career promotion. Managers may also make assumptions that menopausal women may not want to seek promotion while they are managing disruptive symptoms, which is another barrier to career development.
None of these solutions are difficult to put into place, but they do require some attention. The reward is an experienced, stable, and engaged workforce that is tapping into all the benefits that a diverse workforce brings.
Cathy Hastie (FCIPD) is a Social Entrepreneur, HR Director and Author of Menopause Working, available on Amazon.
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