She wakes in the morning exhausted because she has barely slept a wink. She showers and feels unbearably hot after. She starts to fret over the upcoming meeting with colleagues she has known for years – will she be good enough? Will they notice the beads of sweat on her forehead? Scenarios like this happen to literally thousands of women every day. There is no cure for it. It is a fact of life. It is the menopause.
Since time immemorial women like this were seen as crazy, old women. Few people took the time to understand what was happening to them. But thankfully now, the world is a better, more inclusive place. But we are not quite there yet.
In 2017 the UK government put together a report ‘Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation’ to enable businesses to understand what women go through, the implications economically and what they can do to support them so together they can all flourish. In the UK 70% of women are in the workplace, 3.4m of whom are in their 50’s, so the chances are they are all going to go through the menopause while at work. This is simply too big a number to ignore.
Unlike pregnancy and maternity, the menopause is not well understood in the workplace. There is a lack of knowledge, understanding and support which makes it harder for them to perform at their best. Whatever the origins, the symptoms can lead to a lack of engagement, low job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation, and increased sickness absence and a desire to leave - and with all of that, a potential loss of corporate memory and of course, expertise.
The Labour party in the UK has pledged, if it were to become the government, to set up a menopause workplace policy which would see training on the menopause for managers and flexible working in organisations with over 250 employees. This is seen as good news by many.
For me though, I am not calling for menopausal women to be treated differently or to have special needs. Absolutely not! We worked hard for equality, we aren’t going to blow it now. I would just like them to have the opportunity to operate on a level playing field where provision is made in the workplace where they can thrive, but others can benefit too. A win/win/win all round. There are a number of issues which could be addressed easily which would make the entire workplace a better environment for everyone where happiness and productivity soar, for example:
- Better ventilation and regulated room temperatures Surely everyone benefits with the opportunity to open windows and breathe in fresh air, and air conditioning in the hot summer months, and blinds to block out the hot sun?
- More short breaks during the day There is so much research available which demonstrates that more short breaks during the day such as ‘Fika time’ practiced religiously by many Swedes, help everyone to de-stress and engage better with their tasks.
- Access to quiet areas Many businesses have identified the need for their staff to have quiet time to zone out, refresh and re-boot. From small start-ups to giants such as Unilever with their Wellbeing Rooms and Google’s sleep pods.
- Relaxed dress code Restrictive uniforms and formal business suits feel a bit outmoded, and in the case of a menopausal woman, overload the wearer and bring on hot flushes. Even big corporations like Goldman Sachs are leading the way by relaxing their dress code.
- Access to showers It’s not just menopausal women who might appreciate the opportunity to refresh themselves at lunch time, but also those who might run to work or go to the gym. Onsite showers encourage more exercise which can only be a good thing.
- Access to fresh, cold water With the pressures on use of single use plastic, surely a water fountain will benefit everyone as well as make a statement on plastic?
- Flexible working hours Introducing working from home days and flexible hours can also make a difference to operational costs with reduced onsite head count and associated desk space etc as well as saving employees on their travel costs, plus enabling them to benefit from working in a quieter environment at home.
It really doesn't take a lot to make a big difference. Just appreciating that the people in your organisation have differing needs and wants, which when addressed holistically, can actually bring wellbeing to all - not just a select few. And along with that, improved staff retention and productivity to the business.
Claudia Collingbourne is blogger/influencer Lydialoves50, whose focus is to empower women in their 50’s to thrive and shine.