The power of research: how it can shape your menopause support
Over the last five years, menopause has increasingly become recognised as a workplace issue, and many studies are now available showing how women experience this time in their working lives. Every woman will experience their menopause years differently, and every organisation has a different culture. Therefore, it makes good sense for organisations to carry out their own research into how to best support their own employees.
“One of the best things an organisation can do to start off the engagement process and find what their colleagues really want is to conduct a survey. This will give you a good understanding of where you are and where you want to be. It can help you establish how much menopause awareness there is within your company, and how to plan your campaign.
It’s also a good idea to regularly survey your colleagues, so you can see how much progress you’ve made over time and make any adjustments to your strategy. Menopause in the workplace support isn’t about ticking a box and moving on, but constantly assessing, evaluating and, if necessary, updating what you’re offering.
What are the benefits?
Carrying out research within your organisation can create substantial benefits by providing insight into how your female employees experience menopause and how it affects them at work. But menopause is not just an issue for women. There are other reasons for hormonal change to cause similar symptoms, such as medical treatments, hormonal interventions and fertility treatment.
Men, too, need to understand about menopause. This could be in the capacity of a line manager, and needing to know how best to support their team. Or it could be so they have a better understanding of how to support their colleagues and partners – menopause awareness doesn’t stop and start at the door to the workplace.
Your research can provide you with information on the strengths and weaknesses of any support colleagues currently have access to, and highlight any underlying issues that may prevent them from doing their job or feeling at their best at work.
Research is the first critical step in being able to understand any issue or obstacle in an organisation. Line managers who have information from research will have an advantage over those who do not and everyone across the organisation will benefit from this.
Carrying out research within your organisation will help you understand where and how more awareness is needed, how the conversation can be opened up, and how to drive change through education and communication. It can also help to form guidance and policy documents, detailing reasonable adjustments which could be considered, the process for discussion (such as a referral to HR or Occupational Health) and signposts to further resources and advice.
What do we know?
Wider research has given us a wealth of information about menopause in the workplace.
We know that women aged 45-60 are the fastest-growing cohort in the workforce and that women, on average, reach menopause at the age of 51. However, this can be earlier or later due to surgery or other reasons.
We also know that, from the wide range of symptoms that can be experienced, there are typically five main ones that can affect work the most:
- Hot flushes
- Focus and concentration
- Anxiety and worry
Research also tells us that 1 in 4 women will experience severe symptoms and may consider leaving work. But no evidence is available to show how many women actually leave their jobs due to difficult symptoms or how many women change their jobs or give up work completely for this reason. What we do know is that, despite increased awareness of the issue and increased published guidance, two-thirds of women still report no menopause-related support at work and only 10% of workplaces in the UK have menopause policies in place.
That symptoms can affect work performance is well documented. Many women do not seek help to manage their symptoms due to embarrassment and to the cultural taboos still associated with menopause at work.
Organisational culture and work conditions have a part to play here and can substantially determine how often and how bad a woman can experience her symptoms while at work. Recent studies also show a two-way dynamic can exist, where a woman’s symptoms affect her work, but work can also affect her symptoms. It is also difficult to know if women take sickness days for menopausal symptoms, as research shows that only 50% of women will reveal the real reason for sickness absence during at this time.
While some research exists to show solutions that can make a difference, there is no information available to determine the effectiveness of these on working women to their organisation in the long term. There is also little or no information yet available for how a woman’s career development can be affected by the menopause.
Or with regard to how she feels she is perceived at work or if she experiences discrimination because of her gender and/or age. Overall, there is a lack of research showing best practices to support women in the workplace.
Thankfully, we’re seeing an increasing amount of research into the impacts of menopause at work. But while it’s great for employers to have this information at their fingertips, it’s also important they carry out their own bespoke, internal research to really get to the heart of how they can introduce exactly the right support for their colleagues.
Dorcas Barry is an Associate Trainer with Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace in the UK and Ireland. She has worked for many years in the professional training industry, designing, planning and orchestrating People Programs within a large workforce. Her strong current knowledge and understanding of workplace wellness and psychology is supported by her MSc in Occupational Health Psychology, and she’s an independent researcher specialising in the area of awareness, research and interventions related to menopause in the workplace.
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