October 25, 2021
According to research, nearly 8 out of 10 menopausal women are in work, at a time when many are likely to move into top leadership positions. Despite the challenges and difficulties faced by those experiencing menopause in the workplace, it remains largely invisible, undiscussed, and unsupported. That’s why it’s important for businesses create menopause-friendly workplaces using the principles of behavioural science and health psychology.
Individuals experience menopause differently, and research findings are essential in revealing which symptoms people struggle with most in the workplace. According to a study, one in four women will experience serious menopause symptoms.
Hormone fluctuations effect neurotransmitters in the brain, which can lead to depression and increased anxiety. The decline in estrogen levels can also create disturbed sleep and 60 percent of menopausal women report difficulty concentrating and memory loss.
Research evidence also reveals the factors driving menopausal individuals away from the workplace. These include a range of issues from uncomfortable working environments (stuffy, overheated offices, cramped conditions) to misunderstandings amongst co-workers, a loss of confidence and not always feeling met by supportive management practices.
How can behavioural science help organisations create menopause friendly workplaces?
Research tells us that employees don’t need the workplace to ‘manage their menopause’ or their symptoms. What they want is an environment, which recognises their experiences, and provides the right support to enable them to thrive and reach their full potential.
Training and educational resources which are based on the principles of behavioural science and health psychology, do more than simply raise awareness, and understand of issues relating to the menopause. They actively work to promote positive cultural and behavioural change within an organisation to create inclusive and supportive environments.
Embedding behavioural science principles within menopause training and education can help to create new social norms, replace unhelpful behaviours with helpful ones and make these easier to adopt. Evaluations of the impact of this training can include measures to assess learner knowledge, attitudes, stigma, and intentions to change key workplace practices.
Businesses that invest in research are providing opportunities for their employees to directly feedback, helping women’s voices be heard at senior levels.
Driving normalisation and validation is not only key to retaining employees but it can also help them better manage both the physical and psychological impact of menopause. When we can better manage stressful environments, our cortisol levels drop, which, in turn, can lessen menopausal symptoms.
Practical menopause-focused advice based on recent findings
At this time, women bringing a claim for menopause-related discrimination must do so under one of the existing protected characteristics, usually age, sex, or disability. Acute symptoms may create disabilities, which means reasonable adjustments and protection from less favourable treatment should be made. However, these current legal limitations have resulted in Employment Tribunal decisions being mixed.
Responsible businesses should introduce a menopause policy and workplace adjustments to protect their employees from discrimination. Not only this, but once a policy is introduced organisations need to follow through on it. There’s no point in having a policy if no one knows it exists or where to go when they need support.
Embracing awareness also takes education. There’s a lot of mystery and misinformation about this life stage. Managers should emphasise the importance of menopause knowledge by highlighting its connection to employee well-being.
Talk with the women and men on your team about how you might introduce accommodation strategies like flexible work schedules, offering options to work from home, or delivering company training. There might also be options to work condensed hours so employees in menopause transition can take an extra day off each week for more rest and recuperation.
Colleagues should be open about conversations and attend any relevant training or educational sessions to boost their knowledge and understanding of menopause so they can better support their peers.
Businesses have reported the success of Menopause Exchange Forums like virtual coffee mornings, where employees have met to discuss symptoms, struggles, and even share humorous stories to help each other through difficult times.
Company talks inviting experts to discuss menopause-related topics are also well-received and inexpensive to provide. Subjects could include HRT as well as menopause and mental health. Getting men to join in the conversation with sessions on how they can better understand the menopause, to effectively support their colleagues, family members or loved ones is also beneficial with men reporting they highly value these sessions.
For individuals, often the first step is talking.
If you are finding things difficult make an appointment with your GP to discuss symptoms and follow up with a one-to-one with your employer. Ask them to signpost you to any internal company offerings which could help you manage physical and emotional symptoms better.
For example, company offerings like employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and cognitive behavioural therapy may be useful for those experiencing emotional distress. Most importantly, make sure you attend any company focus groups or complete any internal company surveys, so your voice is always heard.