Menopause in the workplace: Why ‘vital' conversations need to keep happening
Conversations around menopause in the workplace have been ramping up in recent years – and it’s “vital” this continues, says menopause coach Rosanne Cahill.
“So many women transitioning through [perimenopause and menopause] years can be hit with symptoms that can have a huge impact on them,” says Cahill, who is based in Co. Wexford and works with individuals and workplaces on navigating menopause (themenopausecoach.ie).
Symptoms, which occur due to hormonal changes, can vary greatly in severity – including hot flushes, sleep problems, brain fog, anxiety and mood changes, among other things.
“Without support, it can be very difficult for women to have an understanding of what is happening, which in turn can lead to them leaving their workplace out of fear and anxiety if they feel their performance is not what it used to be,” Cahill adds.
This has been reflected in survey findings, too. As Fania Stoney, business development strategist at Great Place to Work Ireland (greatplacetowork.ie), points out: “In Ireland, around 570,000 women are currently in the menopausal or perimenopausal stage, and approximately 350,000 of these women are still in paid employment. It’s common for women to experience a sense of isolation during this period, grappling with feelings of shame or embarrassment, that prevent them from openly discussing what they are going through.
“Research carried out by Ireland’s first dedicated menopause clinic, The Menopause Hub, and the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) found 39% of women have missed work because of their symptoms, and 86% did not feel comfortable enough admitting to their line manager the real reason they had to miss work.”
The Menopause Hub recently launched their 2023 annual menopause and perimenopause survey, with results set to be published on October 18 – World Menopause Day. Great Place to Work is also partnering with the organisation for Ireland’s first-ever Menopause Workplace Excellence Awards (menopauseexcellence.com) – it is hoped winners will be announced around mid-October.
Moira Grassick, COO at HR support firm Peninsula Ireland (peninsulagrouplimited.com/ie), says “progress is being made” – but it’s important that awareness is followed by meaningful action.
“There is greater awareness of [menopause] in the workplace, and employers are making efforts to help working women deal with menopause, by putting appropriate policies in place. While this is a good first step, it’s important to ensure proper support channels are available to women who are experiencing issues with menopause, and that line managers or contact persons have relevant training,” says Grassick. “Increased awareness is only useful if the organisation knows how to support women who are struggling.”
And this isn’t just about helping those directly affected – better menopause support has the potential to benefit everyone, with positive outcomes across organisations more widely.
Grassick adds: “With more women in the workplace and more options to extend retirement dates, there will be a significant cohort of older women in the workforce in the years ahead. If employers do nothing to support these employees, it could potentially lead to a range of HR issues around productivity, absenteeism, high turnover and even discrimination claims. It’s increasingly important for employers to put wellbeing supports in place for women.”
Education comes first
Stoney says “organisations can help break down the stigma of menopause in a variety of ways, but arguably one of the most important is providing education for both management and employees”.
Taking steps to do this means “not only are you creating a space for management to be fully aware of how to speak with employees, you are also telling your staff this is a topic that matters to your organisation, and not something you just want to sweep under the carpet”, she adds.
“This has the added benefit of helping your employees in other aspects of their life, such as in their personal lives, being able to support and understand people close to them going through the same issues.”
Cahill agrees “education is key” and believes another important component here is empowering people with the tools to effectively manage menopause. Individual wellbeing often overlaps with outcomes in the workplace, so a holistic approach can be recognised within employers’ efforts to provide menopause awareness and support too.
“Education and awareness are two key components in the navigation through hormonal fluctuation,” adds Cahill. “Also, taking stock of the five pillars [of wellbeing], which are: exercise, restorative sleep, nutrition, relaxation, and purpose.
“In addition, it is about creating a work-life balance and for women to have equally shared responsibility when it comes to looking after family and/or household work, where possible.”
Employees need to be heard
Grassick says: “Business owners should be examining information and awareness initiatives to highlight the supports that are available. Selecting an appropriate contact person is important. Simply directing employees to speak to their line manager may not be appropriate. Women may not be comfortable talking to their line manager if they are a man, for instance.”
She says appointing “a menopause contact person, who is trained and has experience of how to manage menopause, can be very helpful”. As well as being responsible for implementing menopause measures, they could “most importantly be available to provide informal support and practical solutions to employees who need to talk to someone”.
Grassick adds: “A range of support channels can also be useful. An Employee Assistance Programme is a confidential alternative for women who do not want to speak to colleagues about their situation. Finally, existing HR policies around flexible working, sickness absence, medical appointments and health and safety, should be tailored to take account of employees who are experiencing menopause symptoms.”