Because we simply didn’t talk about it in the way we — thankfully — do now. And it certainly wasn’t something that was recognised as a workplace issue.
But symptoms don’t stop when you step into work. These can be physical, such as hot flushes, headaches or heavy periods. Or psychological, such as anxiety, low mood, brain fog and loss of confidence. Not easy things to navigate in a work environment and responsible employers are recognising this by putting support systems in place.
We’ve made some fantastic progress in the way we view menopause support at work.
This has been strongly emphasised by the recent inaugural Menopause Friendly Employer Awards. Quite frankly, it would have been inconceivable to have held this even five years ago, which shows just how far we’ve come in a short space of time.
These Awards recognised how committed organisations and individuals have proven themselves to be menopause friendly. How they demonstrated best practice, showcasing just how they’ve made a difference to those struggling with menopause at work. How this ripple effect goes beyond the professional into the personal, from the workplace to the home.
Moving menopause into the mainstream is a big cultural shift. It can be a sensitive topic, but it’s essential to show those suffering that they are not alone. The biggest number of applications were in these Award categories:
It’s absolutely brilliant to see these employers committing to supporting menopause, seeing it not as a box-ticking exercise but as an organic, evolving area in which they can continually improve.
While these aren’t yet a legal requirement, a published document is a good sign that an organisation is committed to offering menopause support. These state explicitly what they will do for those struggling, detailing the support within the organisation.
Importantly, these must also be easy to access and well publicised. A dusty document in a filing cabinet or hidden in an intranet is not within the spirit of the process. Employers must commit their support in writing and make sure all colleagues know it exists, know what it contains and know how to use it if they need to.
I started this piece using the word ‘menopause’. I’ve also touched on how important it is to normalise it as a word. Because there are still some who will automatically shy away from the conversation or feel nervous or awkward starting one. Making menopause a subject like any other is so important. And this is where training can be transformational.
Time and time again, we’ve shown that within a short space of time people can go from lack of knowledge and feeling out of their depth to being confident and well prepared to help. Include HR, Occupational Health and line managers in your training programme, as support can often be a collaborative effort. Many employers are now making training mandatory, while others include menopause in their induction and training for new line managers, too. The impacts and outcomes are massive, for a relatively small investment.
When we talk about menopause support, what do we mean? We mean talking to your colleagues, asking them: what’s getting in the way of you feeling your best at work? What can we do to help?
These could be small reasonable workplace adjustments or minor tweaks to your facilities. They’re usually extremely doable and low cost — but can make a huge difference to someone struggling with symptoms. Examples include having cool fresh water easily accessible, providing desk fans and allowing people to sit near windows and away from heat sources. Having a quiet break-out room can provide respite, as well as allowing flexible start / finish times to give people the breathing space they need in their day.
If your organisation hasn’t yet started implementing menopause support, what are you waiting for? And if you have started, what do you need to do to keep the drumbeat going?
There really are some incredible benefits, both to business and colleagues. We’ve seen some fantastic examples of best practice coming to the fore from the Menopause Friendly Employer Awards. A great source of ideas and inspiration, we have published a brochure packed with helpful ideas from the finalists and winners which is available at https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk/
Deborah Garlick is the founder of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, delivering training to hundreds of organisations across the public and private sector. She was instrumental in establishing Menopause Friendly, for organisations to receive accreditation of their menopause activity from an independent panel of experts.
Menopause Friendly has just run its first Menopause Friendly Employer Awards, celebrating workplace excellence in the field. Deborah is a passionate advocate of all-things menopause, appearing regularly in press, on TV and radio. She gave evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause and is also the author of the book Menopause: The Change for the Better, published by Bloomsbury.