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Time to talk about menopause at work: What can HR do?

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In part two of her series raising awareness for World Menopause Day, Blaire Palmer discusses what HR professionals can do to support employees going through menopause, along with five actionable recommendations to facilitate affected employees.

18th Oct 2021
Author, speaker, agent provocateur for senior leaders and their teams That People Thing
Columnist
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As long as women are suffering in silence, we may be creating an environment at work that, unknowingly, discriminates against midlife women.

Lizzie Mildinhall believes HR can do much more. She eventually left a big agency to start her own consultancy but believes, if she had been supported earlier, she would not have wasted two and a half years thinking she was burnt out. 

“Every business needs a menopause policy. It’s inextricably linked to the gender pay gap. There is a direct correlation between pay and the way women are able to function just at the point they are ready to take more senior positions and I’m an example of that. You have kids that need less supervision and that’s when you would take on more responsibility but you can’t because you’re putting the keys in the fridge and you can’t think straight”. 

“I firmly believe if a workforce were empowered and informed you would keep your staff for longer because they wouldn’t be taking sick pay or anti-depressants”.  

As an HR professional, Helen Selvidge was in a position to make a difference. 

“My line manager was very understanding and we started talking about it at work quite a bit. We had quite a few staff we knew were struggling so we put together some guidance for managers and staff on dealing with menopause. We also set up a Slack channel that’s got about 170 staff on it now – including many men – where we can talk about the menopause”. 

“We did training for managers called ‘Managing Menopause with Confidence’ and webinars for all staff covering what you can do and how to approach your manager for support. We even have a menopause café where you can drop in for a virtual coffee and a chat”. 

Rachel Morris believes HR needs to be more proactive. 

“I would feel I could speak up if it came from senior people who are saying we need to accommodate the fact that these are real symptoms. It needs to be brought to us.” 

It’s about creating an environment where people feel it’s OK to say something.

The impact of HRT

Morris, who has underlying health conditions, decided to go private to get the individualised support she needed and is taking HRT, including testosterone, now. But it’s a long road and she still hasn’t found a dosage that is right for her. 

Organisations need to recognise that, even when women have been correctly diagnosed and given HRT if that’s their preference, the journey may only have just begun. 

Although HRT may not suit every woman, for many the impact of HRT is almost immediate. Speaking for myself, within a day my hot flushes had significantly reduced and I started feeling life was fun again. Lizzie Mildenhall also responded positively to HRT. 

“Within a few months I started feeling significantly better. I thought I was a classic case of someone who was too busy. But now I’m able to work, to earn money”. 

I asked Helen Selvidge how she manages her symptoms now. 

“HRT!’ she replied. “HRT really helps me. I’m a bit of an HRT warrior. I also work with a group of people who are of a similar age so we’re able to share stories. Working from home has really helped and the support of colleagues and friends”. 

“It’s about creating an environment where people feel it’s OK to say something. The biggest concern is that people will think “She’s not up to the job”. It’s about being supportive, taking away some of the stigma and dealing with it as a normal part of life. 50% of the population are likely to develop symptoms. It just takes some brave soul to say “I’m going to do something about this”.”

Listen to the mid-life women in your organisation and consider how silence around menopause may be a factor in your pay gap, retention or your ability to find women willing to take senior roles.

Recommendations

  1. Create opportunities for menopause and perimenopause to be discussed. Enable people to choose how open to be as women are often concerned about the assumptions that will be made about their abilities, energy or potential for advancement. 

  2. Access reliable up to date information about menopause and treatment options. The Menopause Doctor is a world-class resource, busting many myths and fears about HRT and other treatments. 

  3. Educate your managers and your staff. With the right treatment and support, menopausal and perimenopausal women have just as much to give to their work, if not more. 

  4. Consider ways of working that work for your mid-life female employees. Less rigidity over hours, allowing for breaks throughout the day and working from home could enable women who are struggling with symptoms to continue to contribute. 

  5. Listen to the mid-life women in your organisation and consider how silence around menopause may be a factor in your pay gap, retention or your ability to find women willing to take senior roles. Find ways to adapt your recruitment process, ways of working, working hours and pay policy so you don’t lose the huge expertise, experience, leadership skills and wisdom that women in mid-life bring to your business. 

Stories like this are discussed on The Human Revolutionaries Show with Blaire Palmer and Natasha Wallace on Apple Podcasts. Each week Blaire and Natasha explore a business story through an HR lens and share their opinions about leadership, culture and wellbeing at work. Blaire also speaks about the leadership, culture and the future of work at online conferences. To book Blaire to speak at your upcoming conference contact your preferred speaker bureau or email her [email protected].

If you missed Part One of this series, read Time to talk about menopause at work: A shock to the system.

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