Communication Barriers Menopause in Workplace
18th October 2023
Article by Meg Shona Halpin-Webster, Graduate eLearning Content Writer at Marshall E-Learning Consultancy, a Ciphr company
Today (18 October 2023) is World Menopause Day, a day to raise menopause awareness and shed light on the support and resources available to improve wellbeing and health. Unfortunately, menopause is still a taboo topic across many workplaces, leaving many women unsupported during their experiences. CIPD finds that two thirds (67%) of women have a negative experience at work with menopausal symptoms.
This statistic demonstrates that there remains room for organisations to do more to accommodate and support those experiencing menopause. Marshalls is determined to aid organisations to proactively improve their support systems in place for those experiencing menopause symptoms. Back in 2021, Marshalls conducted a survey – Let’s Talk About Menopause in the Workplace – exploring how line managers and those experiencing menopause felt about openly discussing the topic at work. As employees are reluctant to talk about the impact of menopause at work, it’s crucial that organisations make an effort to change this and work towards minimising the negative impact that symptoms can have as much as possible.
Why is menopause an important topic for the workplace?
It’s time to eliminate the stigma attached to the topic of menopause. Greater awareness and more open conversations about menopause means that those experiencing it are likely to be better supported, both practically and in terms of maintaining their wellbeing. Even those that are perimenopausal and postmenopausal can be affected in some way, making accessible support and resources essential. As a distinct lack of support can impact employee retention, stimulating productive and effective communication can prevent the loss of valuable employees.
Addressing communication barriers
Marshalls’ 2021 survey found that line managers were concerned about getting things wrong when it came to addressing the topic of menopause. 16% were afraid of appearing insensitive and using the wrong terminology, but predominantly the issue was that 26% of line managers didn’t know how to go about offering practical help to their employees, with 25% having a distinct lack of knowledge about resources to provide.
The significant rise in hybrid working and remote working poses a new communication barrier for line managers and employees. Managers and their staff may have limited communication due to remote working, but managers can still make the effort to get to know their employees and check in on their health and wellbeing regularly via one-to-ones.
There are different communication barriers for those experiencing menopause, especially when it comes to opening up about how their work life is affected. Typical barriers for employees personally affected by menopause include the fear of being stereotyped as old, absent-minded, lazy, disorganised or weak due to the impact of their symptoms (49%), as well as the fear that negative stereotypes and incorrect assumptions will adversely affect their performance reviews (30%). Often, having a line manager that is different to them, particularly in terms of gender or age, may discourage open discussions about menopause, with many opting not to open up when they hear others say the wrong thing. For example, in October 2023, an office manager was told “Everybody gets menopause – just get on with it” and was awarded £37,000 in compensation. It is unfortunate incidents such as this, and invasive questions like “Have you tried HRT?” that leaves employees reluctant to continue open discussion.
Therefore, if you have a colleague or team member going through menopause, it’s important to actively listen to their experiences, find out what will help them and signpost specialist support and guidance and avoid making judgemental comments as much as possible.
Top tips for managers addressing menopause in the workplace
Managers have a significant role in improving the workplace conversation about menopause and cultivating a positive, supportive, organisational culture. Here are some top tips for managers looking to address the subject of menopause:
In these circumstances, privacy and confidentiality is essential. Nobody wants their personal matters being discussed openly in front of their colleagues. It’s important for managers to be mindful of privacy, and make the effort to arrange private spaces to conduct personal discussions. If your employee works remotely, be sure to arrange a one-to-one meeting that will not be interrupted by family members, children or pets for a productive, sensitive discussion.
Prioritise wellbeing and provide adjustments
Managers are responsible for ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Managers can act by providing minor adjustments that can help individuals better manage or reduce the symptoms of menopause. Here are some minor adjustments that managers can put in place:
- Ensuring good ventilation across an office space
- Ensuring a suitable and comfortable uniform
- Providing comfortable seating
- Providing designated quiet areas in the office
- Providing access to more breaks
- Ensuring easy access to drinking water
- Providing sanitary products
- Maintaining clean restrooms and washing facilities
Managers can go a step further and conduct risk assessments to consider which adjustments can be made to support employee performance on either a temporary or permanent basis. Greater adjustments that managers can consider providing include:
- Short-notice time off for difficult days
- Alternative uniform options to ensure comfort
- Flexible working arrangements
- Amended shift patterns
- Allowing menopause to be a reason for sickness absence
Actively listen and provide support
Active listening is an essential skill for a manager to have. Show respect to your employees by actively listening to their experiences and their needs as this will contribute to building and supporting respectful relationships and encouraging open conversations. Implement regular one-to-one meetings with your team members to listen and reflect on any misunderstandings or areas for improvement.
You can provide additional support by reaching out to others internally and externally. When support and advice on the subject of menopause is needed, reach out to your HR department, or a wellbeing and safety officer if you have one. External options include union representatives, menopause champions or advocates and non-profit organisations such as the Menopause Charity.
A greater understanding of menopause, its symptoms and its impact is important to offer useful resources to your employees. Menopause is experienced differently by everyone, which is why educating yourself can place you in a better position to be supportive. In the same way that everyone’s experience is unique, so is their comfortability discussing the subject. Be mindful that all employees may not feel comfortable to discuss menopause either due to their cultural background or other factors; the subject remains a taboo across many societies.
Respect confidentiality and the law
Managers should not breach the confidentiality of their employees who open up about their menopause experience. There are specific legal obligations and implications in place under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
First, the Equality Act 2010 protects all workers against discrimination. Although menopause is not listed as a protected characteristic under this act, if an employee is disadvantaged or treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination related to a protected characteristic, such as age, disability, sex or gender reassignment.
Similarly, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure the health and safety and welfare of their employees. This is applicable to those experiencing menopause symptoms that may affect their ability to work.
How Marshalls can help you mark World Menopause Day
Marshalls has developed a menopause eLearning course designed to increase the understanding of menopause and its impact across all organisations and industries. This microlearning course offers valuable insight into real-life experiences of menopause symptoms and the impact they can have on performance. Through our menopause eLearning course, you can find relevant advice and resources which can be used to support your employees, prioritise their health and wellbeing and tackle the stigma of talking about menopause.
To find out more about our menopause eLearning course, or to hear more about how Marshalls can help you better support your employees, please do get in touch.