The “M”​ word and how to communicate it in the workplace

Until recently the “M ” word aka Menopause was not in my radar and it would not have been if it wasn’t for my friends and mother who are going through it now. I watched my friends struggle with this phase of their live especially in the workplace where support is not part of their organisations’ ways of working or mind-set. Speaking about the “M” word is in the same level as speaking about the “C” word in the Middle East and in most of the world.

This is why in this article I will walk you through its symptoms, how to tackle it if you are going through it, how to put your team member at ease if you a line manager and how to communicate it in the workplace.

The "M"​ word and how to communicate it in the workplace
picture credit wellbeingpeople.com

Like many women I did not fully understand it or relate to it but when researching the topic the findings were staggering.

90% of UK workplaces fail to offer menopause support at work and three out of five working women experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work. (CIPD)

With an aging workforce and rising employment rates for Women throughout Europe, increasing numbers of women will be working during their menopause transition and post-menopause. Whilst the menopause may cause no significant problems for many women, for some it is known to present considerable difficulties in both their personal and working lives. Organisations could really benefit by supporting women through the menopause, from increasing engagement and feel good factor as well as lowering sickness absence and employee turnover.

The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51, but it’s an average meaning there are younger and older women in the mix too (British Menopause Society). The symptoms are very individual and can adversely affect the quality of both personal and working life. At work, they can cause embarrassment, diminish confidence and can be stressful to deal with. These symptoms include hot flashes, insomnia, anxiety, low mood, drowsiness and exhaustion.

This is when I approached a friend of mine, Sara Brinn-Johnson, who has decided to embrace this phase of her life. She established an informal support group in her workplace to provide an opportunity for women to get together and discuss openly how they are feeling and want to be treated in the workplace. 

“I was exactly 51 when I went through Menopause, and I can honestly say it really affected my mental wellbeing. I recall driving into work one morning and having a near miss on the motorway, I’m a confident driver and have been driving since I was 17, however the anxiety and panic attacks after this were awful and I literally would cry on my drive to work and when I got to the office.”

The "M"​ word and how to communicate it in the workplace
Picture credit: myremedy.co.nz

Like my friends, Sara read several books, attended numerous events, and listened to subject matter podcasts but found the findings to be contradictory. This is when she decided to do something about it with the help of her informal group. The group highlighted to her the following which I found to be astonishing especially in this day and age but very true.

1.     Women are reluctant to raise the issue of the menopause in their workplace because of their perceptions of self, feeling they should be able to cope with it themselves.

2.     Women would have a discussion with their line managers out of necessity as their menopause was impacting their behaviour at work to the point that they felt the need to explain the reasons rather than embracing it.

“Often a few simple changes to the working environment can make a world of difference such as adopting a flex working approach for example” said Brinn-Johnson

To finalise, if you are going through menopause or you are a line manager who has a team member who is going through it here are some of our recommendations of how to tackle it and help the communication department communite it:

1.     Discuss your practical needs with your line manager. This can be done during your 1-2-1s or when you are completing your mid/end of year review.

2.     If you are a line manager, work with your wellbeing/ HR partner to understand how you can support your team member. The more you know the more at ease you will make your member feel and open up about her journey.

3.     If you are a Communication/ HR/ Community professional ensure that this topic is part of your mental health/wellbeing campaigns, help to break through the silence in your organisation

4.     Find a colleague whom you trust or friendly with and speak about what you are going through. It might surprise you that she could be going through the same as you are.

5.     If your organisation has a flex working policy, make sure you read it

6.     Use technology in your daily life such as reminders, notes, alarms.

7.     Avoid hot flush triggers (such as hot food and drinks) especially before presentations or meetings.

8.     Consider relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and other potentially helpful techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy

If we are now embracing mental health in the workplace why are we not embrace a natural occurrence that we cannot control? It’s time we spoke openly about Menopause.

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Gihan Hyde
Gihan Hyde is an award winning corporate communication expert with a deep passion for internal communication. Her roles spanned different organisations including HSBC, Barclays, M&S, and Department for International Trade, and the Riyadh Metro Project.
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