Menopause, whilst a natural life transition that half the population will go through, has traditionally been a taboo subject, particularly between men and women. A UCL-led study carried out in May 2021 found that 9 out 10 women were never educated about the menopause – it’s therefore no stretch to conclude that men have generally been even less informed on what to expect and how to deal with it, especially when it comes to talking about menopause in the workplace.
The latest GenM Invisibility Report stated that 1 in 4 women have left their job due to menopause with only 1 in 5 women believing that their employer is well-informed about the subject and almost 50% of menopausal employees reluctant to discuss menopause symptoms at work for fear of being negatively perceived, sidelined or passed over for promotion. A staggering 88% would like more support from their workplace.
Equally, it can be difficult for male colleagues and managers to discuss female-related health issues dispassionately.
Bodyline Medical Wellness Clinics, who offer tailored menopause treatment and support as part of their corporate medical solutions, have collated the following tips for talking about menopause in the workplace.
Know what to expect
The menopause is about more than just a woman’s periods stopping. Usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasting around 7 years, the average age for a woman to reach menopause in the UK is 51, although symptoms can start in the mid 30s with perimenopause and continue well into the mid 50s. Menopause is reached when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
The menopause experience can differ greatly between women, with symptoms varying in duration and severity. There are 48 associated physical and psychological symptoms with the more widely known including fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty getting to sleep and sleep disruption, headaches, weight gain, brain fog, loss of libido, mood swings and anxiety.
Start the conversation
Engaging the entire workforce, regardless of gender or age, is crucial in starting the conversation around menopause in the workplace. By organising meetings and webinars, and recognising events like World Menopause Day, employers can break the ice and create an open and inclusive environment for discussing menopause, ultimately fostering understanding and support among employees.
As a male manager, the more approachable you make yourself and the more knowledgeable you are about menopause symptoms and how they can affect a woman’s health and work life, the easier it will be for a female colleague to talk to you about her menopause and for you to identify what kind of support she might need in the workplace. Most people, even in a potentially embarrassing situation, would rather have an issue addressed than ignored.
Lead by example
Traditionally, menopause is not something that men have felt comfortable talking about, however in a workplace scenario, it’s a subject that everybody needs to know about. If a male manager is comfortable openly discussing menopause, then other staff will follow their lead, therefore creating a safe and supportive environment crucial for raising awareness and facilitating understanding.
Approach the subject as you would any other
Book a meeting room to ensure privacy and avoid unwanted interruptions, turn your phone off, be calm and empathetic, ask open-ended general questions but encourage the staff member to explain the situation from their perspective, listen to what’s being said, don’t make assumptions, remain non-judgemental, and foster empathy and understanding by shifting the focus towards the person involved rather than solely on the problem itself.
Implement a menopause policy
Promoting an open and supportive culture around menopause in the workplace by implementing an inclusive menopause policy – that also includes trans and non-binary staff members – is something that every organisation should be doing to help make the topic more mainstream. This can cover flexible working, menopause leave, guidance and support packages, and alterations to the physical working environment to help manage menopause symptoms.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.