Jenni Murray, on Women’s Week first coined the phrase ‘Is it me or is it hot in here?’ to bring the topic of the menopause out of the closet and to the forefront of people’s minds. However, more recently it seems that it has slipped back into the closet.
Approximately half of the UK workforce (47%) is made up of women. And with around two-thirds of women aged 50 to 59 in employment, they will be experiencing the menopause or will have already been through it.
The impact of this hidden medical condition is huge, and yet it is rarely talked about. Suffering in silence is the strategy for the vast majority of working women going through the menopause: muttering ‘is it me or is it hot in here?’ when the hot flushes strike, then apologising for asking for the window to be opened!
Some women (albeit a small proportion) get no symptoms at all, and can go about their working day with no problems. However, the majority are faced with chronic back pain, palpitations, sleepless nights, unbearable stomach cramps, hot flushes, sweats, brain fog and fatigue. And that is not an exhaustive list!
In the past, women ‘of a certain age’ were at home, not working and certainly not having to face important client meetings just as that hot flush strikes. Today, women are working much longer, well past the age that the menopause can set in, and that’s not even accounting for the onset of early menopause.
As is often the case with women’s health issues, menopause is a taboo subject for discussion. So most women try to conceal the effects, and carry on regardless despite being severely debilitated by the symptoms. Research suggests that many women in the workplace find it extremely difficult to discuss menopausal issues with their line manager or supervisor. For many women who are entering the menopause they can feel like a completely different person, making them feel bewildered or upset.
Anxiety also comes hand-in-hand with the menopause, not necessarily because of the symptoms, but because of the stigma that is attached to menopause and how they can be perceived in the workplace. Numerous others feel like they have lost confidence and are more prone to forgetting information, which can be stressful for those in managerial positions who have to be on the ball. Older women in the workplace already report feeling ‘invisible’ and ‘looked over’, and menopausal symptoms only adds to these feelings.
Jane Coope, HR Professional in York says of going through the menopause herself, “As business owners, line managers and HR professionals we need to be so much more aware of the potential impact of the menopause on our staff. Yes of course, the women going through the experience but also their partners and the team members who are impacted by the changes happening to their partner/boss. This is much more complex a condition to get a grip on than say pregnancy, due to the volatility and duration of the menopause experience.” “We need to tackle the shame that seems to surround discussing the issue and offer practical, individual support to those impacted by the menopause. With more women in the workforce, this is an issue that is only going to grow.”
So, what can you do as an employer?
• Be aware and understand. It is important that you keep an open attitude and are aware of what they are going through, so that they don’t feel alone or embarrassed in certain situations.
• Improvements to workplace practices. Simple things such as changes to temperature in the office can make all the difference, especially for those who may be having hot flushes. • Implement flexible working. By allowing flexible working this can make it easier for women to get doctor’s appointments, and can allow them to manage their working hours.
• Support Network. Having organisational support is crucial in getting through this period and by having a good support system this can help alleviate the pressure. It also can help to reduce the stigma surrounding the menopause, which can help to make those around you much more aware.
But above all, TALK ABOUT IT! It will help your staff more than anything else.
The HR Dept is always at the other end of the phone. Don’t hesitate to call if you need any advice on the issues covered, or help getting policies and procedures in place.