Managing Menopause in the Workplace
BY KAREN STEIN
In stepping into the new year we often pause to consider what we hope to achieve in the year ahead. We set goals, focus on our dreams and make plans to realise new outcomes. In doing so, we contemplate how we will navigate obstacles and barriers to ease our way forward.
For those challenged by the many and varied symptoms of menopause, hoping for a manageable year ahead is more than reasonable. Yet with more than 32 known symptoms, (including physical issues such as hot flushes, heart palpitations, insomnia, migraines, muscle aches and heavy periods) and cognitive and emotional symptoms (including irritability, mood swings, anxiety, brain fog and loss of confidence), both perimenopause and postmenopause can present a number of personal hurdles.
Managing menopause in the workplace can amplify these personal challenges. The onset of menopausal symptoms can be unanticipated which can impede the progression of work-related goals. Many menopausal women and some non-binary and transgender persons have described their angst when suddenly confronted by their menopausal symptoms; perhaps a temporary loss of memory in the form of brain fog, often whilst in the midst of a critical meeting during their working day. The lack of control can be overwhelming.
These unexpected challenges are seldom spoken of, and in fact poorly understood. Only half of those experiencing perimenopausal symptoms understand what this actually is. The lack of education and transparency of the topic of menopause can cause confusion, embarrassment, and awkwardness. It can erode the confidence of those experiencing it and may also cause misunderstandings for colleagues who witness a change in demeanour, presence or focus from their menopausal colleagues.
The good news is that with articles such as this, we are seeing menopause become a mainstream topic. We are illuminating the topic so that those experiencing it, and those working and/or living with people who are enduring symptoms, can begin to build their awareness and understanding. This can only help to reduce the historical taboo of menopause.
Stepping into the workplace. In December 2022, LinkedIn published its predictions of the top 16 issues for business in 2023. Listed within the article was a topic which has had a lesser amount of airtime than most. Their article predicts that the topic of menopause is one which will define 2023. As they said, “Menopause will get its moment.”
I believe that menopause will have more than its moment. My prediction is that in 2023 menopause will become momentous. It will become more and more apparent that this is a topic that requires due care and support in the workplace impacting diversity and inclusion in the workforce and workforce wellness.
To ignite the discussion let’s consider what can be done to better manage menopause in the workplace.
Step one: normalise it. Start to talk to the topic of menopause so that it simply becomes less awkward. Hearing it positively spoken of more often creates a new social norm. Talk in full voice without hushed tones. And the more readily it is spoken of, the easier it is for menopausal colleagues to feel valued and heard.
The likelihood of hiding or masking their symptoms will be reduced, which can be liberating. Colleagues will feel more respected, included, and able to co-develop solutions which will support them whilst experiencing symptoms. Importantly, hearing senior leaders freely talk to this topic just as they would another physical or mental health issue, will make a significant workplace impact.
Step two: provide educational resources. There is certainly no expectation that the entire workforce will become experts in all things menopause. However, in order to support those who wish to better understand menopause and why it is a workplace issue, it is important to provide access to podcasts, articles, video links and other tools which can allow individuals to expand their knowledge at their own pace.
Optional internal learning presentations can support a wider audience and allow for questions to be answered. Nominating trained menopause champions who can disseminate information and provide counsel for those requiring support may also improve the management of menopause within your workplace.
This will create the conditions for a kinder, compassionate, and empathic organisation, where menopause is recognised as a normal part of a woman, and some non-binary and transgender person’s lives.
Step three: complete a menopause in the workplace review. Rather than walking past the topic, pause to consider how well your organisation is designed to support those experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Examine how you are supporting your colleagues using flexible work practices to make adjustments to their working day; ensuring breaks between meetings to allow for personal care and regenerative actions; provision of breathable uniforms, clean and accessible bathrooms, and cooling systems such as open windows, desk or laptop fans, or air conditioning.
Assess how your current policies can support those requiring days of leave in response to their symptoms. Review your Employee Assistance Programs to ascertain whether your referred professionals can support team members in relation to their menopausal symptoms.
The above will ensure that menopause does indeed get its ‘moment’ and continues to have a place in the workplace conversation and culture. Seeking opportunities to amplify the topic will ensure that the moment is enduring.