DDN December 2021 December 2021 | Page 17



In the first of a two-part article looking at the impact of menopause on colleagues and service users , Helen O ’ Connor talks about the importance of creating menopause-inclusive workplaces .
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Women make up 51 per cent of the UK workforce , with women over the age of 50 being the fastest growing segment . This is also the age at which women will commonly experience menopause transition as oestrogen levels decline , although it can also happen for younger women , transgender , and non-binary people too and the perimenopause and symptoms can begin some years before .

Some women experience the impact of oestrogen diminishment during their menopause as a ‘ cliff edge ’ that significantly affects their physical and mental health . About eight in ten women will experience noticeable menopause symptoms , of which 45 per cent will find their symptoms hard to deal with , both in and out of the workplace . It can also affect their relationships and may occur alongside other challenging life events , such as an ‘ empty nest ’, divorce , or caring for elderly relatives .
These problems can be exacerbated by a lack of understanding about the menopause and how to support people who are experiencing a difficult menopause transition at work , or when it is treated as something embarrassing , taboo , or a joke .
Results of several different surveys indicate that this has a direct impact on work life and
retention of colleagues :
• 10 per cent have considered leaving work because of the menopause
• 55 per cent said the menopause impacted negatively on their work life and productivity
• 59 per cent took time off due to menopause symptoms
• 60 per cent said their workplace offered no menopause support
‘ Ten per cent of colleagues have considered leaving work because of the menopause .’
Issues can include conflict and tension between colleagues about room temperatures ; difficulties attending meetings or running groups and keyworking sessions in confined spaces that exacerbate hot flushes ; high sickness absences and the stress of meetings to discuss them ; emotional problems at work including anxiety , and changes in performance because of lack of sleep and a loss of focus . Add to this the frustration that can come from trying to get help and appropriate treatment from a GP and how it might also be affecting one ’ s personal life , and this can be
an incredibly difficult life event to navigate .
Seeing an opportunity to enhance our workforce health and safety policies to directly address the menopause , I volunteered to lead on shaping WDP ’ s menopause policy and toolkit . Our people and culture team were really enthusiastic and encouraging of this direction and of my involvement , and I value being part of a responsive and supportive organisation that welcomes organisation-wide initiatives and ownership of them to originate from those working within services .
After consulting other organisations ’ policies and guidelines , and menopause advocates and experts , I drafted our ( Peri ) menopause at work policy , which was put out for a staff consultation that was open to everyone at WDP . We launched the policy internally on World Menopause Awareness Day 2021 and situated it within our new pay and reward structure , outlined by our CEO Anna Whitton in a previous issue of DDN ( November , page 20 ).
When we put our ( Peri ) menopause policy out for staff consultation , a colleague within our team at WDP Merton commented : ‘ I ’ m currently in the process of managing my own menstrual / hormonal related issues and their impacts and it feels very reassuring to be in an environment that is progressive in its ways of approaching these topics .’
This policy and the associated toolkit of information and resources , together with briefings and training that will be rolled out over the next few months , are intended to help everyone understand and appropriately support people who are experiencing difficulties with menopause symptoms .
Of course , it ’ s not up to us to ‘ diagnose ’ colleagues who may be experiencing menopause transition symptoms , and whether someone wishes to discuss them is up to them . But we do want to help managers and other colleagues to be able to support their team members who are experiencing difficulties at work , by increasing their knowledge of menopause and how to hold positive supportive conversations about it .
A quote from Kellogg ’ s , who recently announced how they would be providing more support to staff experiencing the menopause , expresses what we are trying to achieve : ‘ We want to create a culture where people feel psychologically safe , so we ’ ll encourage colleagues to be allies to others impacted by these issues .’
The second part of this article will look at how we can improve our understanding of the possible impact of the menopause on our service users and how it can affect their recovery .
Helen O ’ Connor is service manager at WDP Merton