Keeping menopause firmly on the workplace agenda

By Deborah Garlick, Director, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace.

During the course of the last six months, the world’s attention has been firmly focused on Covid-19. Its effects have been pervasive, touching on almost every aspect of our lives – whether we’ve been directly affected by the virus or indirectly affected by the impacts of lockdown.

For many of us, our workplace may have changed to our homes during lockdown. But menopause is not so happy to adapt, and while the nation (and indeed the world) has been temporarily placed on pause, menopausal symptoms haven’t simply just stopped.

Which is why I’m incredibly thankful to see the conversations continuing, and the vast majority are moving online.

Of late, high-profile women have come out and talked about their menopause experience – Michelle Obama has gone on record to talk about her experience of going through hers in the White House. While most of us don’t have such high-profile workplaces, the message is clear. Menopause is a great leveller, a common experience shared by women across the world. Our experience may differ, of course, but the facts remain.

CIPD has done some great work in creating guidance documents for HR professionals and line managers. Designed to highlight the benefits of offering the right support, along with the best ways to go about this, the organisation has highlighted the vital role that HR plays, and how HR professionals are leading change, guiding managers and acting as a direct source of support for women.

The Covid-19 effect

Of course, our days have been dominated by coronavirus and its wide-reaching implications. For some, who have been directly affected by the virus, it has been a traumatic and difficult time. For others, it has meant massive changes to daily life. Where and why do we fit menopause into all this?

The answer is we fit it in because we have to, and we do it wherever and however possible. Symptoms are continuing to affect women, sometimes debilitating them. Many are not contacting their GP as they want to wait until ‘Covid is over’. While some menopausal symptoms, like hot flushes, may be easier managed from home, there are other considerations. We’ve talked to hundreds of women during lockdown through our online training sessions. There are clear messages that mental health issues are coming to the fore. Stress, worry, and anxiety can make menopause symptoms worse – mental health issues are peaking. And women are not asking for the help and support they need, either from their line managers or their GPs.

What are employers doing?

Santander have been doing some great work when it comes to menopause in the workplace support. They have not only launched guidance for colleagues and managers, but have also sent out communications to ensure that all colleagues are engaged about the subject. And they haven’t taken their focus away during lockdown, but shifted it to where it’s most needed.

“One of the biggest changes for our business and many of our colleagues is how much work has moved to being done from home, with a significant number of our workforce working from home since March,” says Theresa Winters, Culture Lead at Santander. “From a menopause perspective we recognised that working from home could be beneficial to some individuals. For example, some are able to adjust their working conditions easier, such as temperature control, while others who may suffer from poor sleep patterns do not have the daily commute and can adjust their start time more easily to accommodate this.”

“It was also important though to continue a focus on the mental wellbeing of our colleagues going through Menopause. One of the potential downsides to remote working is the loss of physical face to face interaction which so many people draw support from – just grabbing 10 minutes over a coffee break to share experiences with others we know are going through menopause.” 

“In my employee awareness sessions in late 2019 I was particularly struck by just how many colleagues talked about the power of sharing with others and knowing you aren’t alone. Very quickly after lockdown took effect, we moved to making more use of video meetings, but I also felt it was important to take specific actions for those going through menopause. We provided some additional guidance and ideas for colleagues on how to manage their menopause journey during the crisis.”

“We also started up a private online chat group that colleagues could join as a safe space to engage remotely with others going through menopause.” 

“While Covid has presented challenges, it has been important for us to continue the conversation on menopause as part of our wider wellbeing strategy to support our people and to help to normalise the discussion around it. We are also exploring different options to connect our colleagues further including sharing colleague stories of their experience, holding webinars and online lunch & learn sessions, and developing colleagues as champions to provide additional support.”

Where do we go from here?

It’s been an incredibly challenging year. I applaud businesses for stepping up to meet the new norms, such as operating with a remote workforce, or dealing with Covid-safety measures within workspaces. And especially those which continue to support their colleagues suffering from menopausal symptoms, which may potentially have worsened over recent months.

We need to keep the conversation going. What are you doing in your organisation to get everyone talking about menopause?

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