Workplace menopause is currently a hot topic in the UK and the interest is growing worldwide. This is partly driven by equality legislation but also by employers recognising the business benefits of maintaining the wellbeing of people at midlife and retaining knowledgeable, experienced staff.
Where do you start if you are an organisation that wants to introduce measures to support employees at menopause in the workplace? Have your employees started to ask for assistance or are you taking the initiative?
My guest on Hot Women Rock Radio this week, Kirsty Dixon, is a Learning and Development Advisor working in the area of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at University of York. She is a perimenopausal woman who has been hit hard by menopause and its symptoms, especially at work.
In the past two years she has been raising awareness of the effect of menopause symptoms in the workplace. She shared with me the small steps that the University has taken that are making a big difference to the staff.
Kirsty has been working at University of York for eight years, initially as an office manager.
“My experience of perimenopause started in my early forties. I still believed what I was told at school, that it wouldn’t have a major impact. It sat there in the background for years and then, when I was 49, it really hit me hard overnight. I had no idea what was going on.
It got to the point where I went in to see my manager in floods of tears. I was anxious. I was stressed. I didn’t even understand why I was crying. I went to see my doctor and I was put on hormone therapy (HRT). It took effect really quickly. I was off work for two and a half weeks.
My journey since has involved brain fog and anxiety which makes work hard. But the support that I’ve had from work and family and friends has been key to my menopause journey. My view is that I don’t want people to have the same experience that I had. If I can educate people so that they are more aware and know what’s coming, then I’m happy.
I have been very open about my experience from the start. My line manager and colleagues have been very supportive. I’ve been able to say ‘I’m struggling. I’m sorry but my brain is just not functioning today’. I have to write detailed notes to remind myself of what needs to be done.
In 2019 I started an apprenticeship to become a Learning and Development Practitioner, and I needed to do a work-based project. I chose to do it on the subject of workplace menopause. The HR Team understood the business need and provided me with staff demographic data.
I sent out a staff survey at 3pm on a Friday afternoon and incredibly two hours later I had 86 responses. A week later I had 197 responses. After analysing the responses, I set up three focus groups to drill down further into what training and other support staff needed. From that I ran a general menopause workshop for any member of staff to attend and a separate workshop for managers.
The response from people attending the workshops has been amazing. Some times it makes me cry. It may have been the first time they’ve been able to talk about what they are experiencing. They tell me they don’t feel so alone. One woman went straight back to her department and started a support group. Another went to her doctor to ask about HRT.
Now, we have a chat channel that has 207 people signed up to it and we have a Hot Chocolate Café once a month where people can chat informally. I have run sessions for men only. We have resources on a wiki page and a section about menopause on our wellbeing page. Menopause awareness has increased so much in a year.
The big difference I have noticed is that people are more in talking about menopause. Staff feel that they have a voice. The feedback from the sessions is that managers feel more confident to address the issue and have those sensitive conversations.
The menopause in the workplace journey starts with small steps that will build up to make a big difference.”
10 Small Steps towards Workplace Menopause Support
- Engage with the HR Leadership Team. Understand what they see as the business need and the outcomes they want to achieve from a menopause initiative.
- Look at what policies and guidance already exist within the organisation such as a wellness policy or menopause guidance.
- Research the demographic data for your organisation. How many women employees do you have? What age groups? What proportion of your workforce are women?
- Carry out a staff survey to understand what support your employees are looking for. What do the people at menopause want? What do your managers need?
- Create a Focus Group to develop content for workshops.
- Depending on the outcome of the survey, offer workshops for people at menopause and a separate event for managers.
- Analyse the feedback from workshops to review the content of future events and the demand for other support.
- Enable the development of support groups if there is a demand.
- Signpost access to menopause information and other resources.
- Make sure that your senior managers are engaged with the initiative and prepared to talk about it.
Other low-cost initiatives: create a wiki page, hold informal peer support groups, appoint a Menopause Champion, place items in organisational newsletter, and initiate an open online chat room.
Top tip for women: understand what menopause is, the signs and symptoms, so that you can advocate for support. Speak to your medical Practitioner.
If you want advice for your organisation to support employees at menopause, contact Pat Duckworth for an informal chat.