Menopause is one of the last great workplace taboos

Today is World Menopause Day, yet the number of companies that incorporate the menopause into their wellbeing programme is disturbingly low. There are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, but put simply I believe there are three key reasons – it isn’t glamorous, they don’t have the knowledge and experience to deal with it, and because socially it has remained a taboo that we have been reluctant to talk about, even amongst women.

We have to start talking about it. Consider the scale, for a moment. The menopause affects women for – on average – 8 years of their working life. Four are spent in the pre-menopausal stage, where most of the symptoms we associate with it occur, and four post menopause. That means, assuming a career length of 40 years, 20% of a woman’s career is spent dealing with the symptoms. As women make up half the workforce, that means in reality up to 10% of the total time that adults spend working is likely to be affected. Nothing else that may be subject to a Wellbeing programme comes close in terms of scale, or likely detrimental effect on performance.

Two further considerations add complication. Firstly, age. The average age of the Menopause in the UK is 51, however 1 in 10 women experience it before the age of 40, that includes women under 30, and although rare women under 20. It’s not an old woman’s condition, and it also means that women are most likely to be affected at the time they are making the most career headway.

Second, the symptoms and their severity. Every woman suffers the menopause in a unique way. The superstar symptoms that we hear most about include, hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain and irregular periods. They are just the headlines. The list is far more extensive than this and includes depression, loss of confidence, problems with memory and verbal recall and insomnia, all of which can severely impact a woman’s ability to work. While some lucky women sail through without a thought, the majority have some symptoms which although unpleasant can be managed, whilst others find the symptoms utterly debilitating.

While most men would shudder at the thought of considering it, women too have been uncomfortable discussing the menopause. Our mothers ‘just got on with it’ and spoke of ‘the Change’ in hushed tones. Yet 8 out of 10 menopausal women are now in work. This generation of women want to continue with their hard-fought careers and to maintain their ambitions. They also want to talk about it, without damaging their prospects. They want recognition that this is not just ‘women’s stuff’ to be borne in silence and dismissed.

 

So, what can an organisation do?

It needs to work through the three reasons why it is suppressed: to build the knowledge and awareness of the subject that will enable it to be openly addressed and discussed, breaking down stereotypes, and programmes put in place to help women through this stage of their working lives. Women need to know that they can declare that they are Menopausal, without fear of ridicule or there being a negative impact on their career.

That means education and resources. Great strides have been made over the last decades in respect of areas such as maternity, and the same approach is needed here. We have become used to using skilled Coaches to assist Management and staff over the last decade, for a variety of issues and performance goals. Again, this area is no different, we need to coach and train Managers so that they feel comfortable having conversations with their female team members.

Let’s not forget it affects men in the workplace too – they need to understand why women are suffering physically and their moods and emotions may become unpredictable. They need to be aware of how to support their female colleagues. It’s not all down to women to address it, and for men to be free to ignore it.

Every woman will experience a Menopause at some time in their life, it is not a lifestyle choice, it’s a fact of life. The time has come for organisations to step up and support them through this phase. The menopause needs to become mainstream. We’ve shown we can address and deal with many taboos over the last hundred years – we can deal with this one too.

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Kate Usher has over 20 years’ experience of leading organisational transformation projects and coaching personal change. In her latest role as a Positive Ageing Coach, Kate works with women on an individual and group basis to enable them to achieve the next step in their career and in their personal life, and to manage the psychological, emotional and physical impact of their menopause. She can be contacted at  kateusher@outlook.com or 07825 247777

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