While October is almost over, as the Inclusion Champion for Gender I didn’t want it to pass without acknowledging its status as Menopause Awareness Month. Menopause is a natural and inevitable phase of life for most women and people born with ovaries, typically occurring between the ages of 45 and 55. Although most people will either experience this health condition personally, or know someone close to them who experiences it, it is still highly stigmatised and rarely spoken about. Menopause Awareness Month is about providing valuable information and offering support to any staff or students who may be experiencing this significant life transition.
Menopause is a biological process marking the end of a person’s reproductive years. It's a gradual transition that occurs over several years and involves several stages, including perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. During perimenopause, which can start as early as the mid-30s, people going through the menopause may experience irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and other symptoms. Menopause is officially reached when a person who normally menstruates hasn't had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Menopause may also be brought on immediately with the removal of one's ovaries
Menopause can bring about a range of physical and emotional symptoms that vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats: sudden, intense heat and sweating episodes that can disrupt daily life
- Mood swings: fluctuations in mood, irritability, and heightened emotional sensitivity
- Sleep disturbances: difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
- Vaginal dryness: a decrease in estrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness and discomfort
- Cognitive changes: memory lapses and difficulty concentrating may occur
- Bone health: decreased estrogen can contribute to a higher risk of osteoporosis
For a full list of symptoms, and a checklist that you can use when speaking to your GP, check out the Menopause Care website.
Tips for line managers
Navigating menopause can be challenging, but there are various ways line managers can support staff members to make it easier during this time:
- Educate yourself: Make sure you are aware of both the Menopause Guidance and the Holding Supportive Conversations about the Menopause Guidance documents provided by the University.
- Maintain open communication: Encourage open and honest communication with your team. Let them know that you're available to discuss any concerns they may have related to menopause and work. Create a safe and non-judgmental space for these conversations. Show empathy and sensitivity when discussing menopausal issues with employees. Understand that symptoms can be distressing and that it's a natural part of life.
- Flexible working arrangements: Offer flexible working arrangements whenever possible. Menopausal symptoms can vary greatly, and some employees may benefit from adjusted work hours, remote work options, or part-time schedules to help them manage their symptoms.
- Temperature control: Ensure that the workplace temperature is comfortable. Menopausal individuals may experience hot flashes and temperature fluctuations, so having control over the thermostat or providing personal desk fans can be helpful.
- Breaks and rest areas: Allow for more frequent breaks or access to a rest area if needed. Menopausal symptoms like fatigue and sleep disturbances can affect productivity, and short breaks can help employees recharge.
- Accommodate medical needs: Be open to providing accommodations as needed. If an employee's menopausal symptoms are significantly impacting their work, discuss potential accommodations, such as a quieter workspace or adjusted workloads.
- Confidentiality: Respect the privacy and confidentiality of your colleagues. Menopause is a personal matter, and any discussions should remain confidential unless the employee chooses to share with others.
- Check back in: Check in with your colleagues periodically to see how they are doing and if any adjustments to their accommodations or support are necessary.