Before we get stuck in, we have to address the menopausal elephant in the room. Why is it standing there? Does it deserve to take centre stage?
Why do we need to talk about menopause in the workplace?
For many, the topic of menopause can feel either:
- Irrelevant to them and their experience in the workplace, simply because they can’t experience it.
- Something that shouldn’t be discussed in the workplace at all.
Both of those sentiments are untrue. Menopause isn’t just a women’s issue — it affects everyone. When one person on a team is struggling, or off work, it affects the whole team. And when experienced colleagues with plenty of potential left in their roles begin resigning due to a lack of support or understanding around the impact their symptoms have on their ability to work, the entire business is affected.
Brushing the conversation under the rug purely for comfort’s sake offers its own problems. For one, with the possible exception of the goulash someone in Accounts brings in each Monday for lunch, turning a blind eye never improves the situation. Things don’t get solved and your employees that are going through menopause can feel like they’re not being heard.
Plus, if you don’t feel well-equipped to talk about menopause in the office, how are you going to be able to address other issues impacting the women making up half of your workforce? For example, the gender pay gap and women not being offered the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
It’s a lot to have to think about, never mind actually manage — luckily for you, this blog is going to run through four strategies you as a workplace leader (and/or avid reader of menopause-related blogs) can use to support your menopausal colleagues. And applying them might even help you with some of those other large issues we’ve just mentioned.
Suggested reading: The manager of today (and the future) has to think more than ever about how best to connect with their people… to the point that we think they deserve a rebrand to being Connectors of People. Check out our latest eBook Connectors of People to learn more.
1. Support your whole team through training
It all starts with the managers. Doesn’t everything?
In all seriousness, a good way to start thinking about how you can best discuss menopause with your employees is by taking stock of how you have in the past — or rather, haven’t. Menopause is often ignored as a factor in the workplace, despite nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women being in work.1
The first and most important step you can take is to ensure the leaders in your workplace understand what this actually means for your employees. As you would do with any health condition in your team. According to the CIPD, menopause means a lot more than stigma and awkwardness around the air con:
- 65% of women experience lower concentration.
- 58% report higher stress.
- 52% find themselves less patient with colleagues and clients.2
The diverse physical symptoms your colleagues may be experiencing extend from hot flushes to sleep disturbances, mood variations and muscle, skin, head and period pains — all of which can vary from person to person, and throughout the perimenopause stage.
Awareness of your needs and problems has to come before you can devise the solutions.
How do you create effective workplace training?
- Involve everyone: To make any solutions to the difficulties of real symptoms and social stigmas as effective as they can be, your whole organisation needs to learn about the symptoms of menopause and how your current behaviours could unintentionally be isolating female team members. And it really needs to be the whole team. If your most senior leaders are not on board, how can you expect everyone else to be?
- Recognise the experts you have already: Involving employees in a consultation stage before you decide on your learning solutions is also important. Remember that half of the workforce is either going to experience, or going through, menopause. If they’re happy to share their experiences, asking employees going through menopause at work what helps them can give you insights into actions that are simple, yet effective, like providing fans for employees to have at their desks, or giving the option to work from the comfort of their own homes if needs be.
- Make the knowledge accessible: Once you have an idea of the lessons to impart, the methodology for doing so needs to be solid. Consider how you will get this done in an effective way that your colleagues can access, including the most senior. Ideally, you’ll have a flexible solution, so that everyone can access training when and how they want and need to. Breaking this into quick, bitesize segments – microlearning – supports you, your leaders, and your leaders’ leaders, and so on.
2. Be open and flexible to your (menopausal) colleagues’ needs
We’ll be frank. Even though you and your workplace should be flexible to the needs of your menopausal employees, you should really be having that flexibility for all of your employees. It’s the only way of making sure that you have direct visibility over what their needs are and how you can match them.
That especially rings true for making sure the women in your office feel heard. But those sorts of conversations can be difficult to initiate for managers and employees alike.
The largest ever study on menopausal and perimenopausal women in the UK, published in 2022, revealed:
- 44% of women experienced three or more severe symptoms
- 41% felt that menopause was treated as a joke at work3
To get that all-important input from your own people: again, be flexible. This means thinking about how you design any discussion groups or feedback spaces to allow people to raise symptoms they might not want to share with your #general channel on Slack.
Tips on making things easier for your menopausal employees
Yes, you should keep an eye and ear out for the specific needs of your menopausal colleagues and how you can specifically cater to them. But here are a few quick wins for you to start off with:
- Offer hybrid working opportunities: This is one of those things that basically any employee’s going to want as an option. For an employee that’s going through difficult menopausal symptoms though, it gives them the chance to still keep working while doing so from the comfort of their own home. Given the fact that 30% of women have been unable to go into work because of menopausal symptoms, allowing them to work from home just helps in making everyone’s life easier.4
- Enable learning in the flow of work: Making learning accessible increases uptake. Give your employees (menopausal or otherwise) the opportunity to access their training materials whenever, and from wherever, they may need.
- Keep the conversation open: You should be responsive and open to feedback. Build in opportunities for your colleagues to come to you about how they’re feeling, like weekly one-to-one check-ins. The more of an open door policy you can encourage and provide to your teams, the less nervous they’ll feel about coming to you about their problems.
Your flexible support will lead to more women having the opportunity to reach senior management positions. Women aged between 45 and 55 years are a significantly growing demographic of employees in the UK,5 although symptoms that make work challenging are not neatly limited to that age range. Given the most senior roles in UK companies tend to be done by those over 40,6 and 4.4 million women aged aged 50-64 are currently in work,7 supporting the women who are, could, and will, be your senior leaders is a guaranteed way to ensure your whole workforce becomes more productive, positive and engaged.
3. Turn your managers into mentors
Making changes on a company-wide scale, like proposing flexible working arrangements and creating a more comfortable physical space for your menopausal colleagues, is key to seeing positive changes immediately.
Translating training into action works best when managers lead by example. It’s a lot like wedding dancing, in that aspect. But only that aspect.
Menopause-aware managers can lead the charge by acting as mentors, guiding the way to a more comfortable employee experience. The effective support you can provide on a smaller, more personal level includes:
- Understanding that hot flushes are a major symptom of menopause, and offering fans or higher air conditioning temperatures.
- Actively promoting an open-door policy, so your employees know that you’re available whenever they need you.
- Developing trust between you and your employee through calling out inappropriate comments and demonstrating you care about cementing a positive working environment for everyone.
All of these actions reflect a manager that has their colleagues’ interests at heart — whether they are going through menopause or not.
Reassessing your broader workplace learning strategy will also demonstrate this. The right blend of training will destigmatise the taboo of menopause and help you address your own preconceptions, allowing you to sympathise with your colleagues more effectively. Yes, you, standing at the back of this article! In a more inclusive environment (that you get to be at the very front of), your employees are more motivated to be at their most productive.
4. Create space for open conversations in your workplace
It’s ridiculous that around half the world’s population will experience menopause, and yet it still remains a taboo topic at work.
Normalising the discussion of menopause, so that women feel comfortable talking about it without judgement, and all colleagues don’t feel awkward when it’s mentioned, is essential if we’re serious about tackling the continued issue of gender disparity.
We’ve discussed how training, flexibility, and active mentorship can transform the awareness and attitudes of people across your organisation chart. Or dart boards decorated with your colleagues’ faces, if that’s how you prefer to organise your people. The next step is to promote, and hold space for, people to have conversations around menopause.
Your teams ultimately need to learn that menopause is a natural, human process that everyone will be impacted by in some regard — whether they’re the ones experiencing it themselves, or have a colleague who is.
Aid the learning process through bringing everyone together. Give your employees the time and space they need to process the training you instigate, in their own time. Then, share. Here, humour can be the secret ingredient. Menopause is an awkward topic for some, and an excruciating reality for others. Your learning reviews should be warm and empathetic, and allowing those experiencing menopause to laugh about their situation is a fantastic way in.
Undo the taboo with the right training for your team
The returns your organisation will get from effective workplace training are unmatched.
It can come in all shapes and sizes, but for sensitive topics like menopause awareness, filing your colleagues into a room and delivering a lengthy talk on the subject may not be the most delicate way of going about things. Especially if the sandwich selection leaves a lot to be desired. Trying to force it can end up only highlighting the stigma your colleagues face, without allowing them to feel heard.
As a manager and mentor, you’re going to want to provide your colleagues and yourself with the kind of training material that can be both highly engaging and highly informative. At Video Arts, we’ve been able to strike that balance by infusing our easily-accessed catalogue of learning material with a tried-and-true ingredient: humour.
We’ve developed a whole host of collections that encompass everything you need to know on how to tackle sensitive issues in the workplace — from menopause to unconscious bias and diversity. If you want to have a look at how they can help you take your management forward, book a trial with us and we’ll get in touch.