Last month, a woman in Scotland won £37,000 in an employment tribunal after her boss told her she used menopause as ‘an excuse for everything.’
When she tried to explain to him the impact menopause symptoms were having on her and why she had to take a couple of days off work, he dismissed them, saying, "Everyone has aches and pains." She successfully sued for unfair dismissal and harassment.
The landscape is changing. Whilst menopause may still be a taboo subject, misunderstood, or dismissed, things are happening that mean staying ignorant is no longer an option for organisations - nor does it serve organisations well to do so. In the example above, the worker left after 27 years of service - a significant loss of experience and skills - all because of ignorance and careless comments.
But this is just one example of the issues those experiencing menopause face.
Throughout their lifetime, 80% of women experiencing menopause will have symptoms, with 44% of women saying it has a significant impact on their work. But due to a lack of knowledge and discussions in the workplace, 47% of people who need to take time off due to symptoms don’t tell their employer the real reason, according to The British Menopause Society, and almost one million people resign from their jobs due to symptoms, according to Bupa.
With women between 45-55 being the fastest growing workforce demographic in the UK today, and the fact that menopause can also affect trans and non-binary people, learning to talk about this life-changing event is imperative if we are to create a supportive and open environment for all. Learning how talking about menopause with sensitivity and support could also contribute to the overall retention and well-being of the workforce.
In her latest blog, specialist menopause coach Jo shares guidance on how to have conversations about menopause at work that are approachable and inclusive. Jo also offers insight to those going through menopause about how to have conversations surrounding menopause at work.
Talking About Menopause at Work with Sensitivity and Support
As a leader, manager, or colleague, how confident do you feel when it comes to talking about menopause at work?
Like many others, you might not have had appropriate training, and with only 25% of organisations having a menopause policy – according to Debenhams Ottaway Solicitors – you might not know how to approach these conversations or the consequences of doing so.
Honest and open conversations are crucial in the workplace. When we feel able to discuss what we’re going through in both our personal and professional lives, we feel safer, more confident, and happier. Our well-being additionally increases, as does our desire to continue working for the organisation.
So, as a manager or leader, how can you begin talking about menopause at work with sensitivity and support?
Jo shares her tips below.
1. Educate Yourself
The first step in addressing menopause at work is educating yourself. Understand what menopause is, stages, symptoms, and impact on individuals. Menopause is not just about hot flushes; it can affect mental health, sleep patterns, and productivity.
Knowing and understanding these nuances will enable you to empathise, have better conversations, and provide tailored support to each person.
It’s important to note here that menopause impacts everyone differently. Whilst some may experience some ‘common’ symptoms that may be recognisable, others might experience symptoms that we may not know are associated with menopause.
Educating yourself could include reading books, but it could also include offering and taking part in menopause workshops, such as our newly launched 2-hour workshop designed to offer practical guidance for line managers.
2. Promote Inclusivity
Creating an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable discussing menopause is paramount. But how can you do this?
Firstly, Jo shares you could use inclusive language and avoid making assumptions about who might be experiencing it and how they might be experiencing it. Just because you, your partner, wife, mother, or sister might have gone through it in a particular way or ‘sailed’ through it does not mean your colleague will have the same experience.
Encourage open conversations, assuring colleagues they can confidently share their experiences without fear of judgment, labelling, or discomfort.
3. Timing Matters
Choose an appropriate time and setting for conversations about menopause. It’s often best to have these discussions one-on-one or in small groups, as they are sensitive and can be quite personal.
Menopause cafes are a simple way of breaking down barriers and offering informal support to everyone in the organisation who wants to know more.
4. Be a Good Listener
Menopause can be an isolating time for a person; it can be challenging to discuss, even with loved ones. When someone decides to confide in you about their experience with menopause, be a good listener and listen to understand, rather than to respond.
Let them share their thoughts and feelings without interruption. Resist the desire to fix or solve - just listen. Be prepared to hear their perspectives if their symptoms impact them at work and get curious.
Showing empathy and understanding can make a significant difference. Simply feeling ‘heard’ can have a powerful positive impact on the person - don’t underestimate it.
5. Offer Support
Support looks different for everyone – what works best for one person might not necessarily be good for someone else. Before jumping in and providing support, ask the person what they think they need.
Be prepared to offer support in practical ways. For example, consider whether there are specific accommodations they need, such as a fan on their desk, working closer to a window, flexible working, or access to a quiet space when needed.
Simple gestures can go a long way in making a colleague’s experience more manageable and should be considered to ensure the workplace is safe and not exacerbate a person's symptoms.
It’s not enough to just implement support as and when you talk with an employee, though. Menopause symptoms can change, and so regularly reviewing practical support that’s put in place ensures that those experiencing it always feel heard and receive the support they need at different stages, such as during perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
6. Provide Resources
Within the organisation, build up a library of resources or signpost where they can be found if they are already in place.
Resources might include informative articles, books, or websites that can help individuals better understand what they are going through and how to manage their symptoms effectively. After all, knowledge is power.
7. Address Stigma
Menopause is sometimes stigmatised, dismissed, or made the subject of jokes. To ensure everyone in the workplace is talking about menopause at work with sensitivity and support, address any inappropriate comments or behaviours when you encounter them. Remind colleagues that menopause can be a really challenging life stage and should be treated with respect.
Having Conversations Surrounding Menopause at Work
If you are navigating a challenging menopause and your work is impacted, talking to your manager or workplace about it may seem terrifying.
Research shows that people don’t generally disclose what is happening for them for fear of being labelled, embarrassed, or misunderstood.
However, approaching the conversation in a planned, solution-focused way can help remove the emotion and help you feel in control. Here are three tips that we hope support you:
1. Plan what you want to say
Sometimes, thinking in advance and planning what we want to say can help us have difficult conversations. When it comes to doing so, think about the practical, reasonable adjustments you need and share these with your manager or leader.
2. Break it down
Sometimes, conversations surrounding menopause at work can be challenging due to a lack of awareness, insight, and knowledge. If your manager or leader has never had a conversation about menopause, they might not know exactly what you need or how it’s impact you.
When you approach your manger or leader, break the conversation down into three parts.
Part one - this is the problem.
Part two - this is how it’s affecting me.
Part three - this is what I need.
3. Keep it factual and succinct
Following on from the above tip, keeping the conversation factual and succinct can not only help you share how you’re feeling and what you need, but it can help your manager or leader understand better.
Talking about menopause at work can be challenging for everyone, but it is imperative if we are going to create open, supportive work environments. It will also contribute to increasing retention, reducing attrition and avoiding tribunals.
As with any health issue in the workplace, talking about menopause at work should be approached with sensitivity and support. By educating ourselves, promoting inclusivity, and offering practical assistance, we can create a workplace where menopause is understood and acknowledged, and equity is embodied.
Encourage open dialogue and be a source of support for your colleagues as they navigate this unique journey. Together, we can foster a more compassionate and understanding workplaces for all.
To learn more about our menopause workshops and one-to-one menopause coaching with Jo, contact us today by calling 0800 345 7727. Alternatively, email Zoe@theleadershipcoaches.co.uk or fill out our contact us form.
Written by specialist menopause coach Jo.