How HR can help break the taboo of menopause

The key to more open discussion about the condition is practical support, more conversations and role models, explains Danny Harmer

Like every modern business we want a transparent, supportive culture. But the reality is that some topics are still taboo. Whether it is the menopause, the struggle of mental health problems or even the challenges of juggling caring responsibilities. Society still has a way to go for everyone to be able to talk openly about some subjects.

The purpose of events such as World Menopause Day today is to encourage conversation on these off-limit topics. Along with visible allies and role models, they help us break the cycle of people keeping challenges to themselves and just ‘getting on with it’.

And, this week at Aviva we’re talking menopause. 

Almost everyone will experience menopause at some point in their lives, whether directly or indirectly. As life expectancy increases, modern women are spending nearly half of their lives menopausal. And yet it’s still taboo, and while some women can sail through the menopause, for others it significantly impacts their physical and mental health.

Disappointingly, many organisations don’t acknowledge the menopause, let alone provide support for colleagues. According to new research from Aviva, one in three people say their workplace doesn't offer any support at all to those experiencing the menopause. And more than half would not feel comfortable discussing menopause with their manager.

To help combat this, one of our wonderful colleagues started a support group for those going through the menopause. Originally face-to-face, this is now an open online community at Aviva, where more than 400 active members can access informal support from each other.

At Aviva, we’re up for anything that makes a difference so we have built on this and we now also offer our people an app, expert partners and visible role models. Here’s a bit more detail on what we are doing:

  • Specialist menopause support: last year, we introduced app Peppy, which offers one-to-one consultation, resources and live chat services for those experiencing the menopause and, critically importantly, for their partners too. 

  • Mental health support: free access to the Aviva wellbeing app, as well as external apps Headspace and Thrive. 65 per cent of UK people leaders have attended mental health training to help them support their reports with their mental health. Our #mystory internal campaign in 2020 saw colleagues from all levels share their experiences of mental health.

  • Internal colleague-created podcast Me, You and Taboo, which tackles challenging subjects including eating disorders, infertility, pregnancy loss and living with bipolar disorder.

  • We also hold monthly virtual group sessions, specifically for people going through the menopause – this creates a confidential, supportive forum for people to talk about their experiences and symptoms.

We need role models to help us all break the taboo

Menopause isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue. So we have to find role models in our leaders and create opportunities for people to share stories. We can’t rely on women to do this – we need male colleagues to become allies too. 

That’s why Aviva’s backing the Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign this year – more awareness will help reduce the stigma and that can only be a good thing.

Without the right culture, taboos will remain

Wellbeing in workplaces isn’t about giving people fruit. It is about practical interventions and nudges. Apps, conversations and expert partners offer pragmatic solutions. But on their own they aren’t enough. Embracing diversity and creating an inclusive culture that supports our people is at the heart of Aviva. Organisations need to listen, respond and give support to those who need it. Without the right culture, taboos will remain. 

Danny Harmer is chief people officer at Aviva