Friday 13th March 2020
by Sasha Harrison, Homes and Property Services Director Southern Housing Group
All women will go through some form of menopause, the symptoms of which can last up to ten years. Yet, for all that, it’s not really spoken about and can be viewed as a taboo subject.
Did you know that in the UK there are 4.4 million women in the workplace aged between 50-65? That’s 1 in 8 workers and they are more than likely suffering from a host of menopausal issues. But even so, over 70% won’t have shared how this condition is making them feel with their employer.
Now I’m three years into ‘the change’ as it’s euphemistically known I’m on a crusade to get us all talking about the subject. There’s simply no place for silence about the menopause and especially not in the workplace.
For those that have met me, admit it, you know I look way too young to know about the subject yet alone be experiencing it. However, sadly be you young or less young, male, female or non-binary, you do really need to know about the menopause and its evil twin perimenopause because if it doesn’t affect you directly - if will, no doubt, be affecting someone you know right now in this hot flush moment be they a female colleague, friend or a member of your family.
To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the menopause, other than the classic comedy stereotypes of women having hot flushes and being portrayed as a bit batty or past it, whatever that means. No one had mentioned it to me, and I had never even spoken to anyone about it, why would I? After all, it wasn’t going to affect me until I was really old and seriously, how bad could a hot flush be? Come the time I’d just open a window or take my cardigan off.
Whoaaaah, rewind, I had no idea of just what was going to hit me, like middle aged spread; temper outbursts on a level where I could easily compete with a toddler having tantrum, and probably win. I know this because my poor husband has told me so - colleagues have yet to break their silence - it’s on that basis I think it’s time we take this condition seriously -and talk more about it.
Did you know menopause can cause memory problems which is also known as brain fog? I was known as the woman to rival the memory of an elephant, but not anymore. I can’t even remember the simplest words. I also get hot flushes at night which can mean night after night of broken sleep. As a result, it can be a struggle to get through some days because I can feel really tired and that makes me even grumpier. I haven’t had children, so I've been used to sleeping like a baby, sorry, no pun intended, so my new nocturnal habits of kicking off the bed covers trying to cool down after a bout of the night sweats is a serious shock to my system. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this as over 58% of menopausal women are affected by the night sweats. Anxiety is also a common symptom which exacerbated by lack of sleep.
Now, I don’t want to frighten anyone, this is not my plan at all. I just want to share my experience to get people talking. This is an important recruitment and retention issue for employers, especially for us as Southern Housing Group. We have over 600 female employees and over 300 of them are over 45. That’s a lot of people to be potentially suffering from some of these issues. Yet, less than 10% of organisations have a policy framework or guidance to support women going through the menopause.
To its credit, I know that as a caring employer Southern Housing Group is keen to support women that are going through the menopause and this is what we are doing to tackle the situation.
Starting from last year we started an awareness campaign when we marked World Menopause Day. This has resulted in a menopause support group on our Yammer communication channel. Now colleagues can share their menopausal tips and experiences.
In addition, we have started running menopause awareness sessions for general information and for all colleagues. Plus, specific training sessions for managers to increase their confidence so they know how to start a conversation about the condition, obtain more knowledge about the condition and therefore have a better idea of what support to offer. These sessions have been particularly educational for male managers and surprisingly younger female managers too who are self-confessedly ignorant of the symptoms of menopause and to underpin their learning we have produced a manager guide.
We’ve already achieved a lot in a comparatively short space of time but, even so, just let’s say this dialogue has only just started in our workplace. There is still much to say and I’m going to ensure the conversation only gets louder.