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Managing the menopause at work

Written by Annette Cairns on .
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Menopause is of course our ‘hot topic’ (pun intended) this week as it’s World Menopause Day, and of all the things that can impact productivity at work, this one is becoming far more well known and widely talked about. This is partly due to increased awareness thanks to the amazing work done by some leading figures, and partly due simply to the numbers of women that are in the workplace going through menopause.

This issue can’t be ignored, and whilst I’m grateful personally to have experienced only minor symptoms, in my role where I empower people to be the leaders they want to be, working to their full potential, I thought it would be interesting to how this can be navigated.

The Sweaty Statistics...

Ask most people about the menopause and the hot flush is usually the most common symptom that is talked about, and in a recent survey 73% of women had experienced this. Ranging from uncomfortable to debilitating, this is something that can have a really physical impact in the workplace, but is just one of the issues that women are experiencing.

Other symptoms include feeling drowsy, low concentration, low mood and memory troubles and these lead to a significant number of women losing their self-confidence at work as they experience problems and issues as a result. Imagine being at the peak of your career, when you start to make mistakes, physically don’t feel at your best, and begin to feel tired and anxious about your role. Compound this with employers maybe not having clear support and guidance in place, and you can see how this leads to a downward spiral.

Sadly, between 25 and 40% of women have indicated they considered leaving their job due to the menopause – there are so may reports with different figures but that’s definitely too high in my opinion.

Awkward silences…

As difficult conversations go, talking about health is often hard even with friends and family, so unsurprisingly talking to colleagues at work can prove even more challenging. Currently, organisations have no specific requirement to have a menopause policy in place, and sometimes this lack of guidance and clarity can lead to managers being unsure about how to manage absence or performance relating to women who are going through the menopause. It could also be the reason that some women prefer to try and manage in silence, rather than raise issues with their superiors.

As I said, I don’t profess to be an expert on womens’ health, but I am very good at providing people with the insight and skills to communicate well. There are TWO THINGS I can recommend to all in the workplace that will help:

1) Educate yourself

I call myself a life-long learner, and wholeheartedly endorse having a curious mind, adding value to your thoughts and decision making, and opening up to new knowledge and ways of thinking. Reading about menopause, and how to manage it personally or as a leader (or both) will increase your understanding and empathy, whilst helping you make decisions within the workplace for a productive team.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know the brilliant Bev Thorogood and can’t recommend her new book highly enough – ‘The Business of Menopause’. Read it. It will help!

2) Learn how to have courageous conversations

Start with taking the time to understand yourself better, and use some tools to help you when you need to have difficult discussions. As a manager, having a warm and welcome approach is the first hurdle to overcome with such an emotive subject, and so take the conversation away from the corridor, have a coffee and make sure you both feel comfortable and relaxed. You may well need ongoing support from HR to make decisions about flexibility and ways to work around difficulties, but doing so together will be far more effective in the long run.

If you need some support in understanding your behaviours and how to improve teamwork through a coaching approach, then take the time to investigate this. I’m always happy to discuss it!

It’s frustrating that whilst I find myself working around so many wonderful, strong and talented women who are seemingly smashing their career goals, we’re also looking at organisations losing really key roles in the workforce because of menopause. I hope that the brilliant work being done to raise awareness helps our future female workforce to enjoy their careers for longer.

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