Are you doing enough to support your employees through the menopause?
Is the menopause really a workplace issue?
The menopause is a natural process that almost anyone assigned female at birth goes through at some point in their lives, and it brings with it symptoms that can be a daily challenge for many women. Sleep problems, hot flushes, low mood, brain fog and memory problems are just some of the symptoms that will commonly affect female employees at work during the menopause. In fact, in a recent survey we conducted amongst UK employers, almost 3 in 10 said that members of their team had suffered poor health due to the menopause.
Awareness around the menopause at work
However, despite the fact it affects around half of the working population at some point in their lives – and its significant impacts on the body and brain – it’s still a taboo subject. Our recent research showed that 15% of males in the UK had never even heard of the menopause.
Why does it matter?
It’s important that employers understand the impact the menopause can have on home and work lives, and what they can do to better support their workforce. Not only will it help the individual and their loved ones, but it’ll help the company’s bottom line too.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that the menopause is just one stage of a female’s life, and the symptoms tend to be temporary. For many other life stages or situations such as pregnancy, grievance, or short-term health conditions, employees are commonly given support packages and conversations about these topics are often had openly. And the menopause shouldn’t be treated any differently.
With the current stigma around menopause in the workplace, employees are unlikely to feel comfortable asking for the support they might need. And without the right support in place, employees may be less able to do their jobs effectively, take more time off sick, and in some cases, they’ll leave the company.
Yet, when we surveyed UK employees, we saw that only a fifth of businesses (19%) have an official policy in place to support those going through the menopause , and over a third (36%) of employees weren’t actually sure if their company offered any support at all.
What can employers do?
We spoke to our Head of Organisational Development, Naomi Thompson, who suggested a few ways you can help support your employees’ wellbeing through this challenging time and show them that you genuinely care.
Educate your workforce through webinars, talks and speaker events – this will help break the stigma around the menopause, and employees who want to support loved ones through the menopause will benefit from this too, not just those experiencing it themselves! At Benenden Health we’ve created a ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign, full of bite-sized information around women’s health. It includes de-bunking myths on HRT, practical tips like yoga techniques that help manage key symptoms, and information on a range of available treatments and their risks. After all, the more educated your workforce are, the more proactive they can be about looking after their wellbeing too.
Allocate time for comfort breaks throughout the workday, especially during long meetings.
Don’t question if your employees need to take a comfort break – in fact, proactively encouraging them can help promote a healthy work life balance and normalise self-care at work.
Make sure employees’ uniforms, or your workplace dress code, isn’t causing discomfort – those experiencing body changes and hot flushes may feel much more comfortable in a lighter material or looser clothing.
Create a focus group for women across the organisation – this is something we’ve recently done at Benenden Health, and it’s been a great success so far. Having this support network in place has helped many women in our workforce feel less isolated with any health issues or concerns they’re facing, this helps colleagues to build stronger relationships with each other too.
Regular and meaningful 1-2-1s – encouraging managers to start all 1-2-1s with a ‘wellbeing check-in’ is a great way to encourage open conversations, and help managers understand how their employees are really feeling. This can help employers identify where support might be needed. We practice this at Benenden Health too, and it’s resulted in more positive relationships between managers and employees, and it demonstrates a genuinely supportive work culture too.
Finally – it’s important to be empathetic. It’s commonly assumed that female employers would be more supportive or understanding because they might have experienced the menopause themselves. However, many female employers might have have sailed through the menopause without the need for any specific treatment or additional support. But don’t forget that your experience is not necessarily someone else’s – and for some women, the impact it can have on their daily life is huge.
Should I proactively approach the subject with an employee?
If you see one of your employees behaving out of character, or notice them experiencing unusual symptoms, it’s best to ask them directly how they are feeling and see if they share what’s going on. This should be done in a confidential way – in a private space, and at the right time (not when they’re rushing from one meeting to another!) Asking employees how they are feeling shows a level of personal care and it’ll help build better relationships with them going forwards.
If they bring up the menopause, or its symptoms, and it’s not something you feel equipped or comfortable to talk about, make sure you can point them in the direction of useful resources and somebody else to talk to. It might be that they want to speak to a female, or a member of HR, or perhaps a medical professional.