It is fantastic to see the increased attention and discussion that the menopause is getting at the moment. Open discussion and the sharing of knowledge and resources will help to remove the stigma around the menopause and help to build more supportive and open workplaces.
In Northern Ireland, high profile women such as the BBC’s Marie Louise Connolly have been tweeting about their personal experience of the menopause, The Menopause Room – a supportive Facebook group has been established, a menopause café run by Menopause Wellbeing NI has opened and the Equality Commission in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the LRA have established a useful practical guide to the menopause. Legal Island ran an ‘In Brief’ Menopause Special last month which collates a broad range of useful resources and they have also developed an e-learning course for organisations.
There are so many aspects of the menopause, but Business in the Community are running a webinar at the end of September specifically focusing on the Menopause and Mental Health at Work. I took this opportunity to speak to Siobhan Kearney, Coach, Mentor and Wellbeing Trainer who is involved in the webinar about her experience of delivering these sessions and the important messages for Northern Ireland businesses.
I know that talking about the menopause can be awkward, given that it is still a taboo subject. When delivering my Menopause Awareness workshops, I was initially surprised that it was not only men that felt uncomfortable, but that a lot of women didn’t want to talk about it either. But of course, women don’t want to talk about it openly because there is still a lot of shame and embarrassment about experiencing the menopause. The good thing is, that once we get over those initial few moments, and they realise that I am there to support them to open the conversation and feel confident and informed about the menopause then they start to relax into it. Business Leaders, HR Professionals and Managers know that this is becoming an important topic in the workplace, and they want to be ahead of the game when retaining and recruiting top talent to their company.
There is still a lack of awareness of the symptoms of the menopause and the impact it can have on women’s lives. The menopause has been in the dark for such a long time and it is only now, with high profile women starting to talk openly about their experiences of the menopause in the media, that this transitional phase every woman will go through, is getting the attention it deserves.
Things are beginning to change, but we have a long way to go. With TV personalities like Davina McCall and local well-known personalities starting to talk openly about this, then it brings attention to the menopause. This is a good thing. But there is still that fear, shame and embarrassment when talking about something that will impact every woman in her lifetime. According to recent research by BUPA – in the UK, there are nine million women aged between 40 and 60 who could be experiencing some of the numerous symptoms of menopause or perimenopause. Three and a half million of them are over 50 and in the workplace. This demographic is typically at the top of their professional game, offering a wealth of experience and skills. When there is a conversation going on outside the workplace, and women are aware of it, then business should be thinking about bringing this into the workplace, so women don’t leave, feel empowered to speak up and are supported during this transitional phase in their lives. That’s where we all have a role in destigmatising the menopause.
The menopause has a massive impact on women’s mental health and wellbeing – from loss of confidence, brain fog, poor concentration, low mood and depression and feeling overwhelmed – if women are experiencing these symptoms – many will find it easier to just leave work than talk to their manager about it. Last year one in five women gave up work because they could not cope with the symptoms. But, like mental health in general, talking to someone about what they are experiencing can be just what a woman needs at this time. Feeling understood, having a corporate culture that actively supports them and knowing that they do not have to hide how they are feeling can be the very thing that keeps women in the workforce. It is always, in my experience, more cost effective to put measures in place to support employees, than it is to replace them if they feel they have to leave. When employers understand the mental health impacts the menopause can have on women, they are better equipped to put reasonable adjustments in place to support their female staff.
Start the conversation now. Learn about the menopause and be proactive in your approach to changes you might need to make. Talk to your staff and consider co-producing policies around the menopause, this will help create a culture where it is ok for female staff to be open about what they are experiencing. Implementing cost-neutral or low-cost interventions can have a massive impact on women’s experience at work. We all know, having a conversation costs nothing. Think about how you can really make a difference and support your female staff, like setting up a Menopause Room at work where women can come together and share what they are doing to manage their menopause, and generally feel more at ease when being at work. If you can, then think about how the workday is planned for women – could you offer flexible start times for those women who have not slept the night before, could you train Menopause Champions so women have someone to go to when they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, even consider menopause specific wellbeing programmes that complement what you might already be offering your staff.
And finally, one thing that could make a massive difference is to offer Menopause Awareness training to your managers to give them the knowledge and confidence to have conversations with female staff and support them in a meaningful way.
This is a new area for many businesses across NI. But the companies I have worked with have been proactive in transforming their workplace to support menopausal staff. They have developed a Menopause Policy which links to other policies including sick leave, flexible working and their health and wellbeing policies and procedures. Ensuring that relevant policies are reviewed to include the menopause means that they are integrated and do not just rely on a standalone menopause policy. Given my years of experience in the area of mental health I am well placed to help them consider what needs to be done to support their female staff during the menopause, particularly around mental health and wellbeing. This includes information on the menopause, training for staff, delivery of wellbeing focused workshops and signposting staff to sources of support.
I have found that having a policy in place facilitates conversations – but that is just the start.
I would say to HR professionals and senior managers, do not shy away from this topic. Given the focus on the menopause and growing awareness of the impact symptoms can have on women, it is better to be proactive than reactive. Being aware that all your female employees will go through the menopause, some with hugely impactful mental health symptoms, gives you a head start. Think about the cost of replacing your top female talent, which far outweighs the cost of taking action now. Being aware of the symptoms is critical if you are going to have a menopause friendly workplace and of course reviewing existing and developing new policies and procedures can help you support women who are menopausal
You should also consider providing menopause awareness training for all staff.
Recent research by BUPA found that almost one million women have left a job because of menopause symptoms, exposing UK businesses to the threat of losing their most experienced female talent. And for those women who don’t leave their career, there is still a risk to businesses of absenteeism. Many women have been forced to take long-term leave, with the average being 32 weeks, which obviously impacts on productivity. Clearly, left ignored the menopause will cost employers in talent and profitability. It’s time to put the menopause on the top of the business agenda and address the taboo. Organisations that do so will create an advantage in attracting and retaining female talent.