The importance of training line managers in menopause awareness
Employment rates for women have been steadily rising globally over the last eight years with women now representing 47% of the labour force. Despite this, menopause at work still remains taboo and is rarely a topic of open conversation in the workplace.
Work can influence a woman's experience of menopause and any symptoms she experiences, resulting in the need for organisations to be aware of menopause presenting as an occupational health issue.
While most women will go through menopause during their working lives, 1 in 4 will experience severe symptoms. For these women, work can be challenging, and some may even consider leaving their jobs. Menopause also often occurs at a critical stage in a woman's career.
Why is line manager support necessary?
With responsibilities for managing employees on a day to day level, line managers are central in providing support during menopause. They can make a significant difference to how a woman deals with any issues she is facing. Women report being unwilling to disclose menopause-related health issues to their line managers, especially when they are men and/or younger than them. On average, only a quarter of women reveal being in menopause in their workplace.
As every woman’s experience of menopause is entirely individual, taking the time to find solutions that work for each individual can help to increase confidence and energy to deal with any other symptoms. Very often, small changes can make a huge difference with little cost.
What are the issues?
Firstly, women typically feel embarrassed talking about menopause at work. They often feel concerned that their manager would also be embarrassed and uncomfortable if they do bring up the subject. But unfortunately, this can result in them taking time off work to deal with symptoms without disclosing the real reason for absence.
Secondly, they can experience further stress due to believing that menopausal symptoms need to be concealed. Nearly a fifth of women believe that disclosing their menopause will negatively impact their managers and colleagues' perceptions of their competence at work, and open them up to being stereotyped.
It is therefore unsurprising that women can find it difficult to discuss menopausal symptoms at work and fear what might happen on disclosure. In a recent UK survey;
- Almost half of women admitted they would find it hard telling senior management or even close colleagues that they are struggling with symptoms.
- 54% were concerned that admitting they were in menopause would make them look less capable.
- Many disclosed fears of being brushed aside, made fun of, criticised, bullied or becoming subject to performance management and ongoing capability monitoring.
What can be done?
Women are more inclined to disclose their menopause if they regard their manager as understanding and having an empathetic attitude. But managers are unable to offer support or possible adjustments if they are not aware of the problems a woman may be experiencing. The European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) recommends menopause awareness training for managers to inform them of the various ways menopause can affect women at work.
With awareness training, managers can gain the confidence to approach discussions positively and consider suitable work adjustments for women in menopause where needed. Having the appropriate knowledge, attitudes and skills attained from awareness training also allows them to contribute to an organisational culture of openness about menopause.
Furthermore, women's embarrassment and stigma around menopause is shown to be considerably reduced in workplaces where managers have received menopause awareness training.
Guidance on menopause training for managers suggests that online training can be an effective and acceptable approach for increasing awareness. It has a broader reach than face-to-face training and need not be expensive.
Awareness training, education and support for menopause in the workplace is good for employees and good for the organisation. It supports an inclusive culture and is a win-win for all.
Normalising conversations about menopause, possibly with colleagues or via established processes with managers, can be a useful starting point to change organizational cultures. The integration of menopause awareness raising and support activities into established health and well-being policies could provide such an alternative.