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You might not have talked about, or even thought about, the menopause in your business yet. For young startups especially, it can feel like a topic that’s reasonably removed from your immediate experience. But you might be surprised to know that menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce, and with years of experience behind them, they’re not a demographic any business can afford to ignore.
The menopause is typically associated with physical symptoms lasting around 7 years (7 years!) of a woman’s life, and there’s a clear but often underestimated link between the menopause and mental health. With hormonal changes and disrupted sleep patterns, menopause can cause an elevated risk of serious and long-lasting disorders like anxiety and depression.
With almost 1 million women saying that they’ve left a job because of menopausal symptoms in the UK, it’s time we opened up about the realities of the menopause in the workplace. Here, we’ll look at some practical ways to start the conversation around this topic, and to support employees experiencing the menopause and perimenopause at work.
Understanding the menopause
Menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, caused by a natural decline in oestrogen levels for women and other people with a menstrual cycle. Somebody experiences menopause when they haven’t had a period for 12 months, but they can experience symptoms caused by hormonal changes for years leading up to this, during a transition known as perimenopause.
While people experience its physical and psychological symptoms differently, the menopause can have a massive impact on people’s lives, including their relationships at home and at work. In fact, a quarter of menopausal women experience debilitating symptoms, and the same proportion report feeling concerned about their ability to cope with life.
When so few people talk openly about the menopause, this all adds up to a painful and isolating experience, and it’s only natural for symptoms to have repercussions on somebody’s productivity at work, too.
Menopause symptoms that can make work challenging
As a manager, you don’t need to be a medical expert in the menopause to be an empathetic ear or an advocate for awareness. But knowing the symptoms that can affect someone’s performance at work can help you feel more confident if someone tells you they’re not feeling their best and need a bit of extra support.
Physical menopause symptoms
- Hot flushes (suddenly feeling very hot or cold, which can cause dizziness)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Headaches, migraines
- Muscle aches and pains
- A loss of bladder control
- Unpredictable or heavy periods
Emotional menopause symptoms
- Low mood (or depression, in serious cases)
- Low self esteem
- Problems concentrating
- Memory loss
- Panic attacks
A survey by the British Menopause Society found that 45% of women said that menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work, and 47% wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason if they took a day off work to deal with them.
If someone discloses to you that the menopause is affecting their work or their mental health, then it’s a good idea to reassure them as their manager that anything you discuss will be handled confidentially (or shared sensitively with HR), and in the same way as any other health issue. Make sure you’re familiar with any medical or mental health support your company offers, so you can point people in the right direction if they’d like some professional help.
It might be useful to think about whether there are aspects of your colleague’s job that will make menopausal symptoms even harder to deal with. That way, it’ll be easier to think of meaningful ways to support them at work. This includes things like a strict uniform policy, shift rotas, a lack of flexibility around working hours or an environment that makes taking regular toilet breaks tricky.
At Spill, our therapists proactively look out for anyone who might be struggling to get them the help they need.
Building a menopause-friendly workplace
The good news is, the practical interventions that really make a difference to lots of people experiencing the menopause are beautifully simple and low-cost, like a desk fan, or time off to visit the GP. As always when thinking about adjustments you can make to support employees with specific needs, it’s best to ask your employee directly what they’d find most helpful.
Some ideas to get your menopause-friendly workplace started:
📄 Check your policies
It’s a good idea to review your health, safety, flexible working, uniform and wellbeing policies to make sure they take employees experiencing the menopause into account. A specific menopause policy may be helpful for larger businesses, which could include details on any training and support that’s available as well as who your point of contact is for queries related to the menopause.
🗣 Train your managers
Teaching your managers to be more open about menopause in the workplace (either internally or through menopause awareness training delivered by an external expert) is one piece of the puzzle. Another is to make it clear that it won’t always be obvious who’s affected by these issues. It’s important to offer support to women, but also to recognise that it might be even harder to discuss the menopause as a trans, intersex or non binary employee. Regular 1-1s or an employee wellbeing survey are good ways to spot when someone’s struggling and offer more holistic support.
🏢 Optimise shared workspaces
Hot flushes are a relatively visible symptom, so empowering people to control the temperature of their own working environment is key. Think desk fans, windows that can be opened, accessible thermostats and cold drinking water. Access to clean toilet and washing facilities are just good practice anyway, but especially important for anybody experiencing the menopause. Adding free sanitary products to your bathrooms is another low-cost “perk” that can save someone from needing to dash out during the day.
🗓 Offer more flexibility
Being able to start an hour later than usual after a difficult night’s sleep can have a big impact on someone’s mood and productivity. More regular breaks and more time to prepare before long meetings, online or in person, might also be appreciated.
🚩 Make it easy to flag when things are tough
The best way to do this is to give all employees – not just those experiencing menopause – an easy way to signal when they’re not feeling their best, and so might need a little extra time or consideration from their colleagues. At Spill, we use Slack status templates as a way to do this. Inspired by a viral post on LinkedIn, we now have ‘Not feeling 100%’ as an option for employees to use, alongside the more conventional statuses like ‘Doing exercise’ or ‘Having lunch’.
💙 Offer external support
Getting the right mental health support in place is key to giving employees somewhere impartial to turn for advice – and it can take a bit of emotional pressure off your managers as well. Treatment for severe menopausal symptoms usually involves a combination of medication (hormone replacement therapy, known as HRT) and talking therapies, which can combat mental health issues like depression or anxiety caused by the menopause or perimenopause.
We hope this has given you some useful ideas to action in your own company. As we’ve seen, quite a big part of building a menopause-friendly workplace is simply building a considerate workplace more generally. You can find some more tips (51 of them, to be precise) for looking after your team’s wellbeing in Spill’s great big list of employee wellbeing initiatives.
Make sure employees have the support they need to cope with life and do their best work.