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Why manager training is key to improving workplace support for menopause

21 Oct 2020 By Clare-Louise Knox

Improving awareness and knowledge will help create an open and inclusive culture – which is beneficial not just to women, but the whole organisation, says Clare-Louise Knox

Menopause matters. It is a life-changing and transformative event that can affect all aspects of a woman’s life, including work. Yet more often than not it occurs in secret, with women too embarrassed or scared to talk to their employer about what is happening.

New Ipsos research shows that 47 per cent of working women aged 40 to 65 have experienced three or more menopause symptoms while they are working, while 38 per cent reported experiencing both hot flushes and feeling tired. A lack of energy and headaches affected one in four women. In a 2013 study of 896 women by Maturitas, the majority reported they were unwilling to disclose menopause-related health problems to line managers, most of whom were men or younger than them.

If we are to successfully retain this group of talented and experienced women in the workforce, training managers on what exactly the menopause is and how best to support colleagues is key. It is no longer acceptable or business savvy to ignore it. Actively addressing menopause in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it also makes complete business sense.

Improved knowledge and awareness

For too long, in all aspects of life, menopause has been seen as something private, intimate, embarrassing or a sign that a woman has ‘passed her peak’. Many women themselves don’t even know when they are perimenopausal or menopausal or if a symptom they’re experiencing is as a result of menopause or not.

Training for managers is vital if they are to be equipped with the knowledge to be able to support a colleague in menopause. Studies have shown that those who have experienced menopausal symptoms are significantly more likely to turn to female colleagues than male – an Ipsos MORI poll found 45 per cent had spoken to a female co-worker, while only 1 per cent had turned to a male colleague – leading to the conclusion that women will speak to someone who either has experienced similar issues or who has knowledge on the subject.

If we genuinely want women to speak about their issues, we need managers to understand what they are talking about. Menopause is extremely complex and we are not expecting managers to be experts in the subject, but having a base level of knowledge is extremely beneficial.

More inclusive organisational culture

The culture of an organisation can be a huge barrier for menopausal women in accessing the support they need. Barriers often mentioned include male-dominated workplaces, male line managers, fear of negative responses, stigma, discrimination, embarrassment or believing menopause is inappropriate to discuss at work. A culture where a woman feels embarrassed about her symptoms or fears a negative response from managers is not conducive to psychological safety, wellbeing, performance or productivity. After all, a culture where people don’t feel able to bring their full selves to work and keep things concealed and bottled up is not a good one.

Providing training to managers on menopause and opening up a space for these ‘uncomfortable’ but necessary conversations can have a massive impact on culture. It can improve openness, communication, trust and overall relations with colleagues. This is not just beneficial for women, but for the entire organisation. Having an open and trusting relationship with your manager also makes it easier for a manager to spot when something is wrong. Women have described how they feel managers should know staff well enough to recognise if someone is having difficulties and initiate a conversation if necessary.

A catalyst for positive change

Things like physical environments are extremely important and adjustments should be made when required. For example, situations commonly reported as making coping with hot flushes more difficult included hot or unventilated offices or workspaces, formal meetings, high visibility work such as giving presentations, and sharing offices or workspaces with others. A well-trained manager knows that even subtle and easy-to-implement changes can go a long way, such as adjusting the air-conditioning, rearranging an office to be able to sit by a window, or being flexible in terms of uniforms.

What great menopause training looks like

To make an impact, menopause training should be geared towards changing levels of knowledge about menopause, attitudes toward menopause, confidence in talking about menopause, and challenge beliefs and barriers about talking about it at work. Effective menopause training should include information on what the menopause is, who it affects and what managers can do to support colleagues going through it. It should also help managers have positive menopause conversations, build policies for the workplace and outline the legal duty of care as an employer.

Training can be delivered online or in person and should signpost to any further information elsewhere that may be helpful. Personal testimonials from menopausal women are extremely useful and situational exercises demonstrating desirable and less desirable conversations between a menopausal employee and their line manager should also be considered. 

However, organisations should not assume that having a one-off training as a tick-box exercise will create a lasting impact. Without appropriate follow-up and ongoing conversations and a culture shift, it simply will not. But if you actively invest in your staff and support their individual needs, you will reap the rewards and be part of a positive shift in ending the stigma surrounding menopause and other female health issues.

The future of the workplace is an open and honest one where employees are free to speak and where that  uninhibited dialogue is ultimately met with understanding and, most importantly, support.

Clare-Louise Knox is a business psychologist and founder and director of See Her Thrive

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