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 How to support menopausal people at work

We asked Rebekah Brown, founder of menopause supplements company MPowder, for her top tips.

By Miriam Partington in Berlin

A UK poll recently found that 1 in 10 women quit their jobs because of the menopause — but Rebekah Brown, founder of menopause supplements startup MPowder, thinks this is an underestimate, as many women don’t tell their managers that they’re going through menopause. “We talk a lot about inclusivity, equality and gender balance in the workforce, but none of these can be achieved if those transitioning through menopause do not get the support they need,” she says. 

For the Startup Life newsletter we asked Rebekah, who offers training for companies on how to support menopausal employees, to share some advice. 

Understand the challenges

Many workplaces fail to offer adequate support to menopausal people as they’re simply not aware of the symptoms — it’s essential that everyone on the team, especially managers, wises up.

There are some great free resources: the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK has a downloadable guide for line managers about supporting employees going through the menopause. Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, also has a downloadable guide including details about menopause symptoms and how companies can create a workplace menopause policy.

The menopause usually happens between 45 and 55 and has three stages: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. Menopausal people suffer from lack of sleep, irregular menstrual cycles, hot flushes, brain fog and anxiety. It can also cause self-esteem issues: the body goes through a lot of physical changes during the menopause and many women might not feel confident enough to go for that promotion or attempt that challenging project at work as a result.

Be flexible

It should go without saying that if an employee is feeling unwell, they should be allowed to take time off — or work from home if they’re feeling up to it. Employers also need to allow people to have a flexible schedule so they can manage their symptoms and attend doctor’s appointments — without the employee having to take holiday or unpaid leave.

Being flexible as an employer also means understanding that people going through the menopause might not always be in tip-top shape, and give them different options for how to deliver their work. For example, if a person is experiencing brain fog and would find it difficult to talk through slides during a presentation, allow them to pre-record their piece. Similarly, if an employee has had a very poor night’s sleep on the day of an important board meeting and is worried about having a hot flush (these things tend to go hand in hand), allow them to dial in and present remotely.

Provide safe spaces for discussion

People going through menopause want to share their experiences — especially with other people who are experiencing the transition. Many companies in the UK are starting to offer menopause cafes” where individuals can discuss issues related to menopause over a cup of tea.

Another idea is to elect a menopause support officer — a go-to person who perhaps has been through it themselves and can be a confidant for individuals seeking help. The menopause support officer doesn’t necessarily have to be a member of HR, but a person who understands the challenges and can lobby for change within the company. For example, if an employee is struggling at work with menopause but feels uncomfortable disclosing this to their line manager, the elected person can have that exchange on their behalf, or accompany them throughout the conversation.

Don’t rush to create a policy

Instead of having the HR team produce a blanket policy on how menopausal employees should be supported, listen to those actually going through the process about what their key challenges are, and what they think would be most helpful to them. If you create opportunities for conversation on menopause — even if it’s just between team members going through menopause and their line managers — you’ll learn more about the appropriate steps to take, educate management and help bring the topic out of the shadows.

Measure everything

If you do eventually create policies, launch workplace initiatives or even invite colleagues for training sessions on the menopause, make sure you get feedback from employees — via online polls, questionnaires or small focus groups. That way, you can iterate and refine your efforts to support your menopausal colleagues as you go along.

Many people going through menopause have been conditioned to suppress their voices and resign themselves to think “this is how it is” and “I should just get on with it” which often means that their voices aren’t heard. The more feedback loops you can create in the workplace, the better as it’ll help employees feel seen, cared for and able to disclose their difficulties.

On the subject of… Supporting menopausal people at work

📖 How to get started? Menopause at Work has free downloadable resources to guide you in making menopause-friendly policies and practices.

🤒 Manage your symptoms at work. The onus for making workplaces comfortable for menopausal employees falls on the company. However, if you’re still struggling to get the support you need, here are some ways you can take care of your wellbeing during work hours.

♀️ Support women’s mental health. Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression, anxiety and PTSD due to factors such as pay equity, caregiving responsibilities, infertility and menopause. Here, Harvard Business Review offers advice on how to create mentally healthy environments for female employees.

How to run a menopause cafe. Here are some guidelines on how to get people together in the workplace to share how they’re experiencing the menopause.

💡 The menopause opportunity. Ultimately, women need more support — from hormones to community — to stop them from dropping out of the workforce at the peak of their careers. It’s a huge market opportunity.

Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. She also covers future of work, coauthors Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

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