For the next couple of month's, Adviza's D&I theme will be ageism and related subjects. Within our teams we'll be talking about the impact of ageism in the workplace, but also the impact that caring for an elderly relative can have on the lives of workers, and the need to better support women during the menopause. For our first blog, Administrator Julie Kelford has written a personal account of her menopause and suggests ways that employers can support employees going through this stage of life.

Earlier this year, ministers and clinicians from across the UK met for the inaugural Menopause Taskforce. To quote HM Government, the taskforce will “tackle issues surrounding the menopause including increasing access to treatment, and ending the taboos and stigmas that still surround conversations about the menopause, including in the workplace”.

Millions of women go through the menopause every year. Most will experience symptoms that can be severe, including low mood, anxiety, hot flushes and difficulty sleeping, all of which can have a significant impact on their lives, wellbeing and work. I hope this taskforce will lead to improved support and care for women going through the menopause, not least by helping employers to have open conversations with their staff about a subject that has been stigmatised for too long.

My menopause

There is no standard age at which women will have their menopause, but for me it was earlier than many of my peers and friends. It happened in my early forties and the impact on me was debilitating. My brain didn’t work, but my workload didn’t care! My role was pressured and targeted while I was coping with hot flushes and the need to ask people to repeat themselves because my brain couldn’t sync with what was going on around me.

During my perimenopausal stage I worked for a different careers organisation. I was running fortnightly employability workshops for groups of 25 people or more; I’d have the groups for my allotted two weeks and then move on to another group. These were adults with all sorts of personal and employability needs who needed my support, and at times I could barely meet my own needs.

There was one fortnight in particular that I found very difficult, and when my symptoms were at their worst. Though the people were great, the problem was my body and mind. I’d begin a sentence and then lose my way. I resorted to giving my clients workbooks, turning our sessions into paper-based tasks so that I could more easily concentrate on the paperwork after the session. I didn’t want to have to explain that I was menopausal and so used a variety of excuses as cover, saying I’d had a bad night, needed coffee or was ill. Thankfully, my group was helpful and open to a change in methodology. I had a male manager who was nice but I still didn’t feel I could approach him and talk to him about what was happening to me.

Later in my menopause I woke up one day feeling like—there’s no other way to describe it—a sausage about to burst out of its skin. It seemed that overnight I’d gained loads of weight. Everything was swollen as a result of my body’s way of coping with a new normal. I felt physically awful and emotionally embarrassed, convinced that my colleagues could see that my clothes were tight. I wanted to hide away in my little office. I don’t think my colleagues even noticed anything, but for me, it was horrible.

Overall, my menopause knocked me for six. As a woman I felt depressed, inadequate and on the downside of womanhood in addition to feeling physically terrible and mentally adrift. While all of this was going on, my life and work continued unabated and I just had to cope.

Until recently my managers have always been men and I have never felt able to talk about how I was feeling. This is nothing against men at all, but the lack of recognition and education around menopause has probably been exacerbated by the British stiff upper lip and our embarrassment of talking about our bodies. I think men have difficulties with midlife crisis too and would equally benefit from a change in culture when it comes to talking about it.

How employers can help with menopause

This is a highly personal take, but here are my ideas for how we can improve the dialogue around menopause.

Policies and guidance - Have a menopause policy and a charter that lives on your company intranet that encourages openness and recognition around menopause and the challenges it brings.

Remove the stigma - Help to remove the taboo from menopause by having knowledge cafes, such as the one we recently had at Adviza, where knowledge and experiences are shared. My sense of humour about these things is never far away and personally I’d be quite happy to go much further – even wearing a badge that says “I’m a menopause survivor”! I acknowledge that won’t suit all cultures, but how far are we from a national culture where taboo subjects can be joked about in this way? Quite a way, I’d suggest!

Reflect your policies in management behaviours - Employees take their behavioural cue from leaders and managers. At the very least, they soon learn whether a policy is just lip service or whether managers really care about something. For employees to feel safe, they need to see policies being “lived-out” in leadership behaviours.

I have thought about what it would take for any of my past male managers to make me feel I could approach them about my menopause. The answer is something that’s really quite easy: being vocal. Regardless of their gender or identity, if any manager is vocal about menopause, it goes a long way to making them approachable. What might that look like? Simply a supervisor saying “As an employee, your welfare is important to me. If you ever need to need to talk about anything affecting you, you’re very welcome to, nothing is off the table.” Or, perhaps, somebody asking if you’re okay because they can see that you’re not, and doing so in a sensitive way.

All of this is simply good management and good communication and would, I am sure, make employees feel better supported with many other issues too, including protected issues.

Leading by example

I really appreciate that the culture within Adviza, particularly its #ShiningALight theme, where we examine and acknowledge overlooked issues, cultural differences and workplace taboos, has led to a discussion about menopause. I’m also heartened by the existence of a Menopause Taskforce at a national level, and any action that helps employees to enjoy a working life free from fear of being judged for something that is a normal part of life.

Further reading:

Government press release about menopause taskforce
Menopause and work: an overview of UK guidance
Why menopause matters in the academic workplace, an article from “Nature” Magazine with some useful advice
New guidance for Higher Education on how to support staff during menopause, by Advance HE


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Our vision is for all young people and adults to make better decisions that help them achieve their full potential. That includes following the path that makes them happy and being the most authentic version of themselves.

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