I’ll be honest. I’m a woman and a diversity, equity and inclusion leader. Those two things should make me more informed on this issue, but it didn’t even occur to me that menopause is something to address in the workplace because it’s just not talked about enough.
We don’t talk about it enough in schools, at work, in media or advertising. When we do talk about it, it’s almost always negative. Many who experience menopause worry that if they talk about something so personal, they’ll become part of a joke, be seen as less competent and that it could jeopardise their job. I don’t blame them for avoiding the double whammy of age and gender stereotypes. Unfortunately, when something like this is taboo, we end up with a lack of information or worse, misinformation.
We do this thing at IPG Mediabrands where we regularly and anonymously offer our people a platform to share their feedback. Some of our brave people took the opportunity to tell us about how menopause affects their day-to-day work. So, in 2022 starting with our Australia team, we introduced a Menopause Friendly Workplace initiative with help from Thea O’Connor an expert on the topic. We later expanded the policy beyond just menopause to build a Menstrual Friendly Workplace. Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way since then.
Menopause is not a disease. It’s natural and most importantly, it’s not a one-off. It’s more helpful to talk about menopause transition, because symptoms usually occur in women aged between 40 to 55 years. On average the transition lasts about seven years, but some can experience symptoms for up to 12 years.
This transition is not a homogenous experience. There are over 30 known mental and physical symptoms which can be experienced with varying intensity. Hot flushes aren’t even the most common symptom. In Asian women muscle and joint aches are most common and there’s also the fatigue, sleep issues, and brain fog.
Not everyone who experiences menopause transition will experience symptoms that impact their work. But for those that do, these symptoms can be managed we just need to remove barriers to work. Here’s three things that workplaces can do to remove barriers.
Talk about menopause transition
If we want people to ask for support, then we need to show them we’re open to these conversations (when onboarding, in emails, meetings, townhalls, policies etc.) and showcase the types of support that are available. Seeing leaders and HR talk openly empowers other to do so.
The lack of information and the spread of misinformation means there’s a gap to fill here. Here’s some training tips that will give people (not just those experiencing menopause but everyone) the necessary knowledge and skills.
Educate people on the symptoms and offer tips on how to bring it up with medical professionals. You’d be surprised by the number of people who suffer in silence because they don’t know help is available.
Educate teams on showing support when someone talks about their menopause transition.
Managers need to know what is expected of them, how they can best accommodate and how to communicate support when they are approached.
Employees experiencing menopause can benefit from guidance on how to discuss their needs.
Offer reasonable adjustment
There’s little value in doing the above actions without being prepared to offer reasonable accommodation. Most variations will require minimal disruption to work while translating into significant increase in productivity not just for the person with symptoms but also for the team. Here are some common examples of workplace accommodations:
- Flexibility with work timing and location.
- Quiet zones in the office are helpful for those who experience brain fog (but also for neurodiverse employees).
- Allow time off to attend medical appointments related to symptoms.
- Agreed upon protected time for the employee to catch up with work that is missed due to difficult symptoms.
- Additional leave on top of designated sick leave (i.e., menopause/period/causal/wellbeing leave).
In addition to this, encourage employees who face additional struggles to access confidential Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and reiterate the non-discrimination policies in your organisation, so they know speaking up about their needs won’t negatively impact them.
Getting better with managing menopause transition won’t just benefit 50% of the population. It will benefit all of us. A culture which empowers people to perform their best and discuss their unique needs, leads to better productivity in teams. This is the culture that will allow us to support brands in their next step in connecting with consumers who experience menopause transitions.
Sheni Nedumaran is the APAC head of diversity at IPG Mediabrands.