Why breaking down the stigma around the menopause is crucial to ensuring an inclusive working environment

Senior woman with colleagues sitting by during business presentation, menopause, inclusion

Article by Alexandra Evreinoff, Managing Director, INvolve – the inclusion people.

Menopause continues to be a taboo subject, so much so that 32 per cent of women report that even their doctors appear uncomfortable when the topic is discussed during an appointment.

It is an inescapable fact that the continued stigma around menopause is a key driver in exclusive practices from workforces towards employees in their 40s and 50s.

Indeed, 30 per cent of menopausal staff have taken sick leave because of their symptoms, but only a quarter of them felt able to disclose to their employer the true reason behind their absence. Privacy, embarrassment, and unsupportive managers were cited as the top three reasons for keeping menopause struggles a secret in the workplace.

What is menopause?

Menopause is when a person who menstruates stops having periods and conceiving is no longer possible. It can begin anywhere between the age of 45 and 55, but some people (1 in every 100) experience symptoms before 40, also known as premature menopause.

Menopause creates a vast array of symptoms of which some can be very severe and impact a person’s ability to manage daily tasks. Hot flushes, night sweats, loss of sleep, low mood and anxiety are all common and can last for up to four years.

Menopause at work

The symptoms of menopause can have a profound effect on an individual’s ability to continue working as normal. According to research undertaken by the CIPD, nearly two-thirds of women said they struggled to concentrate, half experienced higher levels of stress and half felt less patient.

It has been widely reported that menopausal employees feel very unsupported in the workplace when it comes to managing their symptoms. 84 per cent of women felt that there are no measures in place to support them and consequently, 42 per cent have considered leaving their job due to this lack of support.

Gender equality has become a prominent conversation within businesses and wider society as we all strive to create a world that is more just.  However within this conversation, issues surrounding health, like menopause, are often overlooked and little emphasis is put on supporting people through such phases of their lives. Without robust systems in place to ensure menopausal staff members are supported, we will struggle to reach gender parity in the workplace, especially in more senior positions.

So, what can businesses do to create a more inclusive environment for those going through the menopause?

Implement flexible working

Not only do symptoms associated with menopause, such as lack of sleep or pain, make it much harder to consistently adhere to and manage a traditional 9 – 5 working model, but measures that can be put in place to ease symptoms aren’t always the easiest to do when in an office environment. Regular exercise, calm spaces, and places with natural light and ventilation, are some key examples that not every office can offer.

Therefore, implementing flexible working schemes – whether flexi-hours or the option to work from home – can help individuals immensely to complete tasks while dealing with symptoms.  Certainly, the shift from the office to remote working experienced by many office workers over the pandemic has provided a window into the benefits on flexible working for everyone, something that should be considered when implementing company-wide inclusion practices.

Make personal adjustments

When a menopausal employee is in the office, leaders/HR teams must ensure they take the time to discuss with them ways in which they can be made more comfortable. Some common adjustments may include installing a fan on their desk to aid hot flushes, giving better access to cold water or moving their desk next to a window for a better source of natural light.

What is important is that individual needs are explored. No two people will go through the same thing when menopausal, so invest time in making your colleagues feel seen and heard.

Mental health support

It is often assumed that menopause consists only of physical symptoms, however many individuals will face issues such as anxiety, low mood, and depression as a result of hormonal changes. This potential impact on employee’s mental health mustn’t be dismissed, rather where possible, businesses must ensure they have strong mental health support in place should this be required.  

 Businesses should consider signposting appropriate resources to their staff regularly and, if not in place already, explore investing in team members to help them gain Mental Health First Aiders certifications, further supporting those going through menopause and other life-altering phases.

Offer awareness

Everyone will be affected by menopause, whether directly or indirectly, so it is crucial that all team members have a clear understanding of what it is and the potential impact it may have. It is helpful to encourage/mandate awareness trainings for senior leaders and line managers to better support and understand employees who are menopausal.

Implement an open culture

With a lot of ‘taboo’ health issues, there’s still a reluctance to talk openly about such life-altering changes. Menstruation and menopause are highly stigmatised and are often talked about in whispers. It is important for leaders to work to break down these barriers and encourage teams to talk openly and honestly about their thoughts, feeling and experiences.

Menopause can be an incredibly difficult time and so it is crucial that those experiencing it feel supported and included by their environment, especially in the workplace, and that they are made to feel safe and secure when discussing any problems or particular needs they may have. 

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