01 November 2021

Louise Burke, freelance journalist, discusses the importance of supporting those transitioning through the menopause at work

Since the pandemic, we’ve witnessed ‘the great resignation’. But there is another tidal wave of employees leaving their jobs due to lack of support and empathy. Women who are going through the menopause are falling out of the workforce.

The way we work is one of many aspects of life that has gone through dramatic changes during the pandemic. Lockdown and, consequently, an enforced working from home culture has made employers and employees re-evaluate their jobs and priorities.

Following world menopause awareness day, our focus has shifted more specifically to those individuals who are transitioning through menopause whilst working and the impact this has on their performance and well-being.

Recent research from the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee reported one million UK women, many in their late forties and early fifties, and at the peak of their careers, had left jobs due to the menopause.

We know that 75% of women transition through menopause whilst working (of which 5.5 million are aged 40-54 years)* with 1 in 100** who are under the age of forty, so how can we implement support and change in the workplace, so that businesses are not at risk of losing the fastest growing sector in the workplace?

“Well-being needs to be driven top down – led by example by senior managers, but also embedded into the culture”, says Lesley Salem, founder of Over The Bloody Moon (OTBM), an organisation working with specialists to educate and advise employers on menopause awareness. She continues: “Beyond policies and well-being hubs, look at creating organisational habits and cues that encourage people to take agency of their menopause well-being and give them permission to re-address workload, type of work and the way they work with their team, colleagues and line managers.”

Of course, this is not always easy. Leaders are rarely experts in mental health, and gender-specific health issues other than pregnancy are seldom discussed at work. But those sensitive and emotionally empathetic conversations are needed to create change. Tracy Brower Ph.D. sociologist and the author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, recently stated that, to gain better well-being solutions, it requires the leader to listen, and follow through with action. As the popular saying goes, ‘people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel.’

In the same article, Tracy Brower wrote, “Empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders, but it is taking on a new level of meaning and priority. Far from a soft approach, it can drive significant business results.”

How do you empathise when you have not had first-hand experience? This is where training comes in. “Having points of contact in the business who can respond appropriately, empathetically and signpost people to relevant resources, ensures early intervention of poor mental health, and avoids physical noticeable changes from becoming bothersome or severe. There is mental health first aider training, so there should also be menopause training”.

Catherine Wheatley, human resources director, realised the importance of investing in awareness sessions to create more open conversations around diversity and inclusion at the global law firm, Eversheds Sutherlands. “Open and inclusive are two of the firm’s core values and having open and effective conversations about diversity and inclusion topics is a core focus of their strategic approach to inclusion and well-being,” says Catherine. “This is supported through quarterly check-in meetings all colleagues have with their line managers to discuss their well-being, career and performance. The firm also has several employee networks, including gender and well-being groups, that encourage regular open discussions on a diverse range of topics.”

Catherine invited Lesley and her OTBM organisation into the firm for a sixty-minute ‘Menopause, The Last Taboo’ workshop in July. Catherine says, “The OTBM workshop was a fantastic way of generating more conversation and engagement with issues surrounding the menopause and gave a real insight into some of the signs and symptoms to be aware of, as well as highlighting some of the more positive aspects to such an important transitionary stage in life.”

But Lesley warns you do not create empathy with a ‘tick-box mentality’. She explains, “Too many people think a menopause workshop means they have covered that aspect of well-being support. Women who are uncomfortable about sharing their experiences, or do not have access to support, suffer in silence. Silence creates shame. It also allows for misinterpretation as to why a person may not be performing at their usual optimum. Hence why we are seeing such a rise in tribunal cases. So, supporting menopause means making sure people have access to resources to manage changes and ensuring they can monitor and review solutions that make menopause work regularly, and have a network they can lean on.”

Unlike pregnancy, the menopause changes are most disruptive for an average of four years and during a time when life and work are most demanding. There really could not be a better reason to invest and invite empathy into your workplace to allow your team and business to thrive.

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Featured in the November 2021 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.