The menopause and mental health

Did you know? People over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the UK workforce, yet one in five of those who menstruate end up leaving work before retirement age because of symptoms of the menopause.

Anxiety​Workplace anxiety and work-related anxiety Web page Anxiety can be caused by issues inside or outside the workplace, and it's worth employers making efforts to look out for signs that an employee might need support. This page from Acas has a range of tips.Free By: Acas View resource, depression, irritability, brain fog and sleep deprivation are just a handful of menopausal symptoms, all of which can have a huge impact on confidence. The problem is – we’re not talking about it. We already know that working in an environment where we can bring our full selves to work means we’re more likely to thrive, feel happier, and have positive mental health. Menopause is still stigmatised​Tools for raising awareness and tackling stigma Web page Line managers and supervisors are the frontline of wellbeing management. This resource shows managers in the railway industry where to find information to promote awareness of mental health in the workplace.FreeSign up for free to access By: RSSB View resource – but why, when over half the working population will experience it, and we all know someone who will?

The truth is, once we start talking, things change. We spoke to Julie Dennis, a menopause at work specialist, all about this topic and how organisations can help.

Start talking

Sharing stories and experiences helps to normalise talking about menopause, and organisations can provide platforms for staff to do this. Whether that’s a digital platform, formal meet-ups, writing blog posts or recording videos, Julie says diversity of stories are key. “You don’t just want to share stories from menopausal women,” – because then the narrative will stay very much the same – “you want to change people’s views of menopause. Getting a story from a partner, from a younger person, from same-sex couples; that diverstiy and richness of stories is important to represent the employee population within the organisation.”

Raising engagement and building awareness

If people are struggling to talk and connect, you might, as an employer, think about hosting menopause awareness workshops to diminish any awkwardness around the subject. But checking in with your staff is vital. “Understand how menopause is reflected in your workplace right now,” says Julie. “It will give you a baseline to measure against.”

And it’s worth noting that there’s a huge amount you can do already without implementing an entire menopause awareness campaign. You can use what you have in place already around mental health. “Don’t have menopause in a box,” says Julie. “Integrate it with what you’re already doing around mental health; hook into your other EDI initiatives so that you’re looking at menopause through an intersectional lens rather than as a standalone topic.”

The truth is, organisations have legal responsibilities to their staff, to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and equally. So as an organisation, ensure you’re providing evidence based information – you can find lots of trusted resources in this toolkit.

Making adjustments

Try to think about role-specific reasonable adjustments. There’s a lot of focus on physical factors when it comes to the menopause, such as changing the office temperature, or giving individuals desk fans, for example. And yes, we should be aware of these but they can be difficult to control. After all, everyone has different needs – regardless of hormones – and sometimes it just isn’t possible to change physical things in the workplace. Julie captured this perfectly. “As a firefighter, you need to wear PPE, and if you’re a teacher struggling with brain fog, you can’t abandon your class of rowdy 15-year-olds. So think about what you can do culturally to make your workplace more inclusive.”

Julie suggests setting up a platform for staff to connect and talk about the menopause, to provide access to help easily and privately, and for managers to be open and willing to put adjustments in place where possible. And above all – “ask the people on the ground what they think and would be helpful,” Julie told us.

“Put in place some adjustments so everyone can carry on doing their job as well as they always have done.”

Keep the dialogue ongoing.

The truth is, menopause isn’t widely spoken about in the workplace. “It’s an ever evolving conversation” says Julie. As people start to talk more, legislative changes emerge, and marginalised voices are heard around the topic (typically, right now, the existing research is based on women of a certain age) the guidance and advice will change, so it’s important to keep informed.

Regardless of your business size, the same approach works for all when it comes to talking about the menopause. Lean into what you’re already doing with mental health, and if you have mental health first aiders it could be an idea to upskill them, or assign champions so that there’s designated support if somebody wants to talk.

“Ask yourself – what’s my exit strategy?” Julie concluded with us. “It’s normalising it. Menopause is another conversation we can have around here if we want to.”

Resources in this toolkit:

Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice. This PDF shows examples of their diversity networks, and might inspire you to create a menopause support network in your organisation.