Research shows nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work, with many in senior leadership positions.
However, despite the evident disruption of the transition to those at the peak of their careers – and the resulting wider workplace impact – menopause remains a largely unspoken and unsupported taboo.
That’s why Nuffield Health is pioneering a change to the way we approach menopause in the workplace, using behavioral science and health psychology to promote inclusive and supportive environments.
The research on menopause in the workplace
The menopause transition is experienced differently by each individual, making it only more concerning that so many are having to manage their symptoms in silence. Understanding experiences is key in providing relevant interventions.
For example, research shows one in four women experience serious menopause symptoms. This may include feelings of depression and anxiety and difficulty sleeping. 60 percent of women also report poor concentration and forgetfulness during the menopausal transition.
As a result, daily tasks can become a challenge. Individuals may have difficulty focusing when reading text, lose confidence when speaking with – or in front of – others, and even miss deadlines due to impaired memory.
Even for those who don’t experience the psychological symptoms of menopause, the workplace can still be a place to avoid. Busy and stuffy environments can exacerbate physical symptoms such as hot flushes and headaches.
The role of behavioral science
Research tells us that employees don’t need the workplace to ‘manage their menopause’ or their symptoms. What they want is an environment that recognizes their experiences and provides the right support to enable them to thrive and reach their full potential.
This understanding, combined with a behavioral science approach, helps businesses do more than just understand menopausal issues – driving tangible change and creating an inclusive and supportive environment.
Inviting external experts to run seminars or workshops, as well as running internal training sessions, helps employees in the workplace adopt helpful and positive behavioral changes and contribute to building a ‘menopause friendly’ workplace.
This includes both menopausal individuals, who feel more confident in speaking about their difficulties, as well as non-menopausal individuals who better understand the challenges and are able to adopt more helpful behaviors to support colleagues.
Keeping these sessions short and regular boosts engagement and buy-in, too. Busy employees find 15–45-minute sessions accessible and are more likely to retain information, while addressing these topics every few months means the organization is better able to support new starters, too.
Evaluating the impact of these sessions by measuring attendee knowledge and attitudes helps businesses better understand how menopause is understood and experienced in the workplace, helping to plan future strategies for building healthy and inclusive work environments.
Practical solutions for businesses
Although menopause is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex, and disability discrimination, conscientious businesses should have a menopause policy that goes beyond legal tick boxes. Appropriate policies should cover the adjustments available to those experiencing menopause and be communicated to the whole team. There is no point in having a policy if nobody knows it exists.
While creating a comprehensive menopause policy, businesses must also recognize individuals who are experiencing difficulties and in need of support. Here, the question becomes ‘what can I do to support you today?’. Whilst employers may not currently be able to provide a full suite of interventions, everyone is able to initiate helpful conversations that recognize individual experiences and identify any support needed.
Practical solutions for managers
Around 4 in 10 women who have gone through menopause felt they were unable to talk about it at work, especially with their manager.
Team leaders are often seen as the first line of support for struggling employees. So, it’s important they are equipped to hold conversations around menopausal challenges and are confident in signposting team members towards additional support. This may include understanding the reasonable adjustments the business can offer, such as flexible and remote working, shift changes, adequate breaks, rest areas, and access to toilets and washing facilities.
Similarly, upskilling emotional wellbeing champions to provide support to those experiencing menopause gives individuals alternative points of contact where meaningful and supportive conversations can take place.
Practical solutions for peers
Everyone has a role to play in easing the negative impact of menopause in the workplace and colleagues can play their part by engaging in any available training and educational sessions. Simply being aware of others’ experiences can reduce stigma and make it less daunting for individuals to speak about their experiences or seek help.
Employees should also be aware of the impact of their language. By simply moving away from a medicalized vocabulary when discussing menopause – towards a more relatable model of distress, which is something we can all relate to – we can reduce the stigma around the transition.
Similarly, hosting Menopause Exchange Forums – with both men and women – encourages informal conversations around symptoms, struggles, and the sharing of tips and coping mechanisms. These can then be supplemented with informal messenger chats where people can share their experiences day to day and provide each other with mutual support.
Practical solutions for individuals
The first step for individuals is to talk. Speaking with colleagues, employers, and health specialists helps menopausal employees feel they are not alone and that their experiences are common and valid.
Menopausal women commonly attribute their symptoms to anything other than menopause, due to ongoing stigma and feelings of shame or embarrassment. However, by communicating their experiences they will be able to find the support they need from those around them. This may include support in managing their workload to compensate for memory loss or even access to more formal support offered by the business.
For example, emotional wellbeing support such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or EAPs provides access to specialists who can help individuals understand and manage their psychological symptoms. This in turn can also help alleviate physical symptoms, as when stress is well managed, cortisol levels drop which helps reduce physical difficulties associated with menopause transition.
By Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health.