What do working menopausal women want?

As the topic of menopause in the workplace – thankfully – gathers traction in the media and has begun to take hold in workplaces, a new research paper has asked the question: what do working menopausal women want? 

A key question. With policymakers setting guidelines on the medical and legal approaches to menopause, consulting and regarding those directly affected by these is important.

The paper, What do working menopausal women want? A qualitative investigation into women’s perspectives on employer and line manager support, has been conducted by researchers from King’s College London and The University of Nottingham. Its key objectives were to explore women’s perspectives into what employers and managers should and should not do in relation to women going through menopause. In fact, this is the first study of its kind which explores women’s direct input as to what they would find helpful or unhelpful in the workplace.

The researchers used an online questionnaire aimed at perimenopausal and postmenopausal women – aged 45-65 – and asked three open-ended questions:

  • What they thought employers could – or should – do to help women experiencing difficult menopausal symptoms at work
  • How managers should behave towards women going through the menopause
  • How managers should not behave towards women going through the menopause

Menopause in the workplace: what does it mean?

All women experience menopause in their own way. For some, it presents no problems in either their personal or professional lives and they sail through it with barely a symptom. For others, it can cause real issues, both at home and at work; some women say it can result in lower productivity, higher absence rates and reduced job satisfaction. Indeed, it can be a two-way thing, with menopause impacting on work and work impacting on a woman’s experience of menopause.

Currently there is limited research into appropriate employer and manager behaviour. Therefore, this research can provide valuable insights to organisations into just what working menopausal women really want.

So, what do working menopausal women want?

The results were broadly grouped into three themes: awareness, communication skills and behaviours and actions, with the respondents outlining what would be both helpful and unhelpful in each case.

Awareness

Almost universally, woman want their employers and managers to know what menopause is, the nature of its symptoms, and understand the potential impact of the work environment on menopausal symptoms (and vice versa). This included the fact that hot flushes can often be embarrassing, and that disturbed nights can lead to lack of concentration.

Most women also mentioned the physical work environment. Better awareness here could lead to improved reasonable adjustments. Specific suggestions were:

  • Improved ventilation and temperature control
  • Readily available cold drinking water
  • Well designed, supportive seating
  • Desk fans
  • Access to rest areas and toilets
  • Uniforms with looser fabric and cooler footwear

Importantly, women were keen for menopause to not always be seen in a negative light. Rhetoric such as ‘affliction’ or ‘condition’ is definitely off limits. Menopause is a normal, natural process, but experienced differently by all women. Therefore, managers should avoid drawing assumptions or generalising. Essentially, employers should never adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

An important factor for employers to consider is also the temporary nature of menopause. Respondents suggested more recognition of the fact that menopause symptoms eventually pass could help. In particular, as this means they may only require support for a relatively short period of time.

Communication skills and behaviours

Empathy is a key factor in communication, with women citing consideration and concern as something they’d expect from managers. They asked for managers to show respect, to listen and to take concerns seriously. Conversations should be kept strictly private. Indeed, it’s seen as very important that employers do not draw any attention to a woman’s menopause or symptoms.

A number of things were raised in this area which were ‘unhelpful’. These included:

  • Forcing women to have conversations they are uncomfortable with
  • Patronising, belittling or implying a woman is less good at her job due to menopause
  • Flippant, jokey behaviour
  • Using terminology such as ‘ladies’ problems’
  • Harassing, penalising or criticising women going through menopause
  • Avoiding conversations due to a managers’ personal discomfort

Actions

Effective policies are important here. Many women identified existing policies which could incorporate menopause. These included sickness policies to accommodate menopause symptoms. Time off for medical appointments could also be regarded as ‘authorised absence’ – in many cases they currently aren’t. Embedding a positive culture to women’s health is important, creating an open environment and promoting honest discussion.

Many women highlighted the need for workplace training to equip managers with the confidence, skills and knowledge to support menopause in the workplace. However, training at all levels is also important. This puts menopause as a topic ‘on the radar’ and removes the taboo. Including menopause under the diversity umbrella was another suggestion.

Conclusions: what should employers consider?

These research findings are a valuable asset for organisations as they develop their strategies around menopause in the workplace. Reassuringly for employers, the suggestions are generally easy to action and cost effective.

Fostering a positive environment which treats the issue of menopause seriously is key. This provides a strong platform for employers and employees to have mutually beneficial conversations.

Offering training for line managers. This can educate them into what menopause is, what the symptoms are and the nature of support needed. Support will vary from woman to woman. Reasonable workplace adjustments should also be part of this training. Again, these will vary, and will depend on the nature of the work.

Developing communication skills. Menopause is a topic for discussion like any other occupational health issue. Women want to be taken seriously, have their concerns addressed and not feel they are being laughed at or fobbed off.

Creating appropriate policies. Whether this is embedding menopause into existing policies or creating a bespoke one, organisations need to consider menopause at policy level. A policy which outlines the company’s approach to menopause, reasonable workplace adjustments and with guidance for line managers is a win-win scenario. Women feel supported and the organisation will retain its valuable talent, boost morale and improve job satisfaction.

For forward-thinking employers, these are simple steps to implement to support their workforce. These suggestions come directly from the women affected and clearly answer the question: what do working menopausal women want? 

More about the survey

The average age of survey respondents was 54, with a total of 137 giving their answers to the three questions. Of these, three quarters were perimenopausal and a quarter postmenopausal. One woman was taking hormone replacement therapy. The vast majority were non-manual workers with professional qualifications, working in both public and private sector organisations. There was a mix of full- and part-time workers, who mainly worked with staff of both genders and a variety of ages on a daily basis.

Authors:

Dr Claire Hardy (now at Lancaster University) and Prof Myra S Hunter of King’s College London and Prof Amanda Griffiths of The University of Nottingham published the research What do working menopausal women want? A qualitative investigation into women’s perspectives on employer and line manager support.

Menopause woman and man at work

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