‘The more people talk about menopause the better their experience’ (Kantar, 2022)
Lesley Salem, Founder of social enterprise Over The Bloody Moon, aims to remove the muddle and stigma of menopause. She shared some great insights and advice for members of our Network in our recent co-hosted webinar. As a third of the women in our Network are between 45 and 55 (the typical age for menopause), we thought this was a topic many of you would welcome.
Menopause terminology and experience
‘Natural’ Menopause is described as 365 days after a person’s last period. ‘Peri-menopause’ is the time period leading up to the menopause, when a person will begin to experience fluctuations in their hormone levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This can have a big impact on how you feel physically, emotionally, and cognitively. This stage can last for around 7 years – on average women can notice changes for about 4 years. The most common symptoms include difficulty sleeping, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, mood changes and anxiety. In the UK, research shows that 59% of people feel that peri- menopause and/or menopause impacts their lives moderately, severely or at an unbearable level.
It’s also useful to note that women’s experience of (peri)menopause can vary by ethnicity and culture. A recent study in the USA found that black, Asian and Latin women may go through menopause earlier than white women, with more intense and prolonged symptoms. There are still some cultures where discussions about menopause do not happen openly, so it is even more essential to be aware and armed with the right knowledge and understanding as you go into peri-menopause or menopause.
Menopause support at work
The good news is that menopause support is becoming more commonplace. With 5.5m women currently transitioning through menopause in the workplace in the UK, and this number set to grow higher as more women work for longer, businesses are recognising the need to ensure women can access support if required. While organisations are not currently mandated to have a menopause policy, there’s been a groundswell of activity to change this, as it’s believed to be the best catalyst for cultural and systemic change in this area. Currently, 25% of organisations in the UK have a menopause policy, and of those, 75% believe they have had a positive effect. Reported benefits include increased staff retention and engagement, greater productivity, and higher representation of women in senior leadership teams.
Raising the support you need at interview
If (peri)menopause is impacting you, how can you find out whether the company you’re applying for will support you? Doing your research on their website should give some clues as to culture. You could ask about what wellbeing policies, professional networks or employee resource groups they have at interview.
Once you’ve demonstrated you’re the best candidate for the role and have been offered a role, you could raise what support you’d like. This is the point when you may be negotiating other terms such as flexibility. Reflect on what you think will help you to start well in your role and continue in a sustainable fashion while managing any symptoms.
One suggestion could be agreeing a level of flexibility to your day – working a set number of core hours but having the ability to start later and finish later if you’ve had a bad night.
Obtaining the support you need in role
Once you’re in role, do ensure that you’re scheduling in regular short breaks in your day to help keep stress levels down. Block out thinking time and prioritise important tasks to make sure that you’re focussing your time and energy on what’s key. (Good advice for anyone!).
If you need additional support from your employer, here’s some tips from Lesley on how to approach it:
- Arrange a meeting with your line manager
- Prepare for your meeting. Set out how menopause is impacting you, giving specific examples
- Think in advance how you believe they can support you. Are there changes they can make to the ambient environment, your work schedule, the way meetings are currently set up? Come with some suggestions for them to consider and be open to any ideas they might have
- Keep the conversation open and ongoing. As your symptoms evolve, so may your needs
Organisations are increasingly aware that supporting their staff during all life stages will attract and retain the best. So do make sure that you reach out for the help you need to thrive at work.
- Kantar & OTBM, ‘Redefining Menopause’ May 2022
- NHS, 2021
- SWAN Study, ‘Investigating Health for Mid-Life and Older Women’ 2022
- Debenhams Ottaway, in collaboration with CIPD, March 2022