I often go into workplaces where teams are unsure where to start when it comes to menopause

Much of this is because it is a relatively new subject in our places of work. People feel hampered by the societal perceptions that we all grew up with. The whispered exchanges of “the change” in the shadows, a strict ‘woman only’ subject, off limits in the workplace.

All that has gone, leaving many organisations wondering how to answer questions should they arise. They are now the ones whispering in the shadows, trying to conceal the fact that they haven’t effectively incorporated menopause into their policies and culture.

Legally there is no imperative around menopause, however there are three key reasons why organisations decide to take action. While one is often the catalyst, more generally it’s a combination of all three.

  1. It’s the “right thing to do”

Many organisations have recognised that their people are not automatons. That life has its ups and downs and some of us need a little assistance now and again. This is part of the employer-employee quid pro quo ie if we support you, we know you’ll be a better colleague and that you’ll do great work. Gone are the days of squeezing every last drop of goodness out of a person, only to send them home as a husk every evening, to recuperate and return the next day for the next round of wringing.

Employees appreciate organisational recognition and support, which becomes an incentive to stay and deliver outstanding work. Data is now showing that younger generations will expect this and will be far more willing to vote with their feet if an employer does not take their wellbeing seriously. It’s therefore in everyone’s interest to be more progressive, which brings us to the next point.

  1. Talent retention and attraction

Everyone knows that great people are highly sought after. While the intense pressure on recruitment we saw 18 months ago has eased, there is still a dearth of talented and experienced people, outside the security gates hoping to get in. This means that HR professionals have had to focus on the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to create a unique set of benefits for every employee, to help them choose to continue working within their walls and for others to join them. Apps like Glassdoor have had a profound effect on recruitment, with many using it as a pivotal part of the job application process. An organisation’s reputation has a marked impact on its ability to recruit and retain good people. Again when looking for work or career progression, future generations will be taking this type of information far more seriously before they even consider working for your company or organisation which leads us to the next point.

  1. Reputation

With reputation comes an increasing need to protect it, both internally and externally. One miss placed or ill-informed action can do untold damage. See the recent response to Avanti’s menopause gift bag – which contained items like a fan, a notebook to write down things a woman in menopause ‘might forget’.

The flip side to this is that doing the right thing can enhance an employer’s standing, see the press and House of Commons response to Timpson’s offer to pay their people’s HRT prescription charges. This can be further boosted if employees recognise and appreciate the efforts made on their behalf, increasing retention and easing recruitment.

It is important to note that the number of cases going to tribunal that identify menopause, is also on the increase. No organisation wants the negative PR of employee legal action and with this being part of a national conversation right now – any legal action will be quickly picked up by the media moving from local to national coverage swiftly.

The cyclical nature of these three points means that should one be excluded or overlooked, the benefits and opportunities for both parties will be diminished.

But once a decision has been made to become menopause-enabled, what happens next? Here are three important steps:

It’s not just an issue for women: 

The first thing is to understand that this is not simply a woman’s issue.

Due to the nature of symptoms, they cannot be left outside the factory gates or on the other side of the video camera or left at home by anyone affected. They are present 24 hours a day, this means everyone is interacting with those who are menopausal and their symptoms everyday, both at work and outside of it. Every employee will have female colleagues, managers, partners, loved ones.

Awareness must be aimed at all employees, irrespective of their gender, age or seniority.

There needs to be a foundation of understanding to ensure that everyone knows what menopause is and how to both talk about and interact with their colleagues.

It is important to note that men often feel excluded from this conversation. They fear ridicule from peer groups should they show an interest in becoming an ally. Male allyship has a pivotal role in changing cultural norms around this phase in life and should be encouraged at every turn.

Training – not a seminar:

To become menopause enabled an organisation needs to think more deeply than a lunch and learn session. This tick box approach, is to ‘change’ what fast food is to nutrition. Ineffective at best and damaging at worst.

The role of a manager has changed dramatically since 2020, not least because many are managing a diverse range of issues, often across dispersed or hybrid teams. Managers are the nodal points of culture within their teams. They are continuously role modelling expected behaviours, while addressing those that stray outside of this.

They are also as prone to historic unhelpful stereotypes as anyone else. For all these reasons it is unreasonable to expect managers to simply know how to talk about menopause – they don’t.

As mentioned, there is no legal requirement to have a menopause policy or guidelines. But for those who do they create a framework of expectation for all employees to work within. When implemented as part of a wider education and change programme, they help protect the organisation from legal action. It is important to note that as with all policies they need to be easily accessible by all, and maintained on a regular basis.

The training of managers is a critical step in changing the day-to-day language and behaviours between colleagues and across teams.

Consider the environment: 

Lastly the physical workplace itself is a key to being inclusive that many organisations simply don’t consider. There are simple tweaks that can be made that incorporate women’s needs. For those who are going through a redesign of their space, whether it’s in a new or existing location, menopause and women’s needs in general, should be part of the interior design selection process.

Recently I heard of a workplace where two women in menopause were seated next to radiators in their office space which they found very difficult if they were affected by their symptoms. They asked to be moved because of this – a simple request. That request was refused. What will happen to that department if both of those senior women decide to leave because their basic needs are not even heard?

Moving from menopause embarrassed to menopause enabled is not an overnight fix for any business. But, being clear about the outcome and the steps required to get there, will positively impact many people’s perception of their employer. In turn this creates a ripple of benefits that extends further than many will have previously considered.

Now really is the time to get started.

Kate Usher Headshot
Kate Usher
Menopause Coach at Menopause in Business | Website

Kate is an experienced Menopause Coach and gender equity consultant. She works with women and organisations to create simple strategies that enable modern and supportive Menopause conversations. Ensuring women retain their careers and organisations continue to benefit from some of their most brilliant employees. She is an internationally published author, her book 'Your Second Phase – reclaiming work and relationships during and after Menopause' was shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year Award.