Getting people talking about menopause

Kirklees Council (KC) prioritises inclusion and the health and wellbeing of their people. With a high proportion of females in the workforce and almost half of those females being of average menopausal age, they recognised the impact that menopause can have on both individuals and the organisation. KC started work in 2018 to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for colleagues approaching or experiencing menopause.

Workforce

Synopsis

Kirklees Council (KC) prioritises inclusion and the health and wellbeing of their people. With a high proportion of females in the workforce and almost half of those females being average menopausal age, they recognised the impact that menopause can have on both individuals and the organisation. KC started work in 2018 to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for colleagues approaching or experiencing menopause. They wanted the council to feel an open and comfortable place to discuss how menopause affects everyone in the workplace, whether they be experiencing the menopause or perimenopause themselves, or as line managers or family members. They took a whole council approach to raising awareness, encouraging inclusive conversations and providing support for those experiencing menopause and perimenopause.

The challenge

The menopause and any related symptoms are often seen as a taboo, with both the women experiencing them and those around them often shying away from discussing the topic or any support that is needed. The challenge the organisation faced was removing the taboo and any barriers around the subject to create a more supportive and open environment for conversations to take place. There was a need to increase knowledge around menopause and its impact on people, not just personally but how it can impact on their life in general including at work. 

By being able to openly discuss menopause this would enable people to explore solutions and changes that could be made to better support those facing menopause-related challenges. 

With demographics in the sector being overwhelmingly female dominant, they realised that talking about menopause would support inclusion and wellbeing priorities within the Council and help support people experiencing menopause symptoms to remain within their role throughout and with any support they needed.

Due to the perceived taboo, there was a potential for menopause related absences to be recorded under a different heading, resulting in incorrect reporting. It was important therefore that conversations could take place and people can be honest and open about their reason for being off work

The approach

Inclusion and wellbeing are integral to KC’s organisational culture and getting their people talking about menopause seemed a natural fit. It was important to raise awareness across the whole organisation and this began with a blog on World Menopause Day in October 2018. This received a positive response and led to a “Let’s talk about Menopause” session in December 2018 attended by over 100 employees from across the council and introduced by the Head of People Services.

One of the highlights of the session was hearing a range of personal stories from KC people, about their own experiences of menopause, and it inspired attendees to gain different perspectives on menopause, building on their understanding of the impact it has on people both at work and at home. A consistent theme that emerged through table discussions and feedback was the importance of keeping the conversation open about menopause and how this can make such a difference to all.

Participants discussed five key questions with regards to menopause at work with the feedback used to help inform ongoing activity and support:

  • what helps you?
  • what hinders you?
  • what could we do to support you?
  • what one thing would you like the council to do?
  • how can you take responsibility with your future actions?

The council saw a real shift in the feelings in the room from the session from “tired”, “scared” and “hot” at the beginning of the session to “hopeful”, “informed” and “normal” at the end.

Following this first session KC shared resources for people to access to help support ongoing conversations around menopause.

Whilst open to all, men were largely missing from the original awareness sessions, so in 2019 KC ran some targeted sessions for men. These sessions were promoted by asking men if they lived and worked with women – and, if so, these sessions were for them. The sessions offered a safe space where men could ask questions that they may have felt uncomfortable asking in front of a large female audience. The initial sessions were fully subscribed and led to delivering a further two sessions. The audience varied from managers wanting to support their direct reports, to partners who were struggling on a personal level. Again, there was a real shift in thoughts and feelings and an increase in empathy for those experiencing menopause related symptoms. 

Further sessions were held to support managers, including discussion around symptoms and their impact, recording absence and flexible support for people in work. 

The introduction of menopause ‘champions’ (part of our wider wellbeing champions network) has also ensured that menopause remains on the agenda for both the workforce and for policy and strategy at KC.

What would Kirklees Council advise other councils who currently do not have a support system in place with regards to menopause?

Start a conversation, raise menopause as a topic of discussion. Talking is really important and the more it’s discussed, the more it will help to ‘normalise’ menopause. It should not be ‘taboo’ and it is definitely OK to talk about menopause and the impact this can have at work. Start by speaking with those who are experiencing menopause and ask them what support they would want or need.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Each year KC use World Menopause Day on 18 October as an opportunity to remind people of the topic through internal communications. This year they are launching ‘Menopause Moments’, where three or four people who are experiencing the menopause are randomly matched to have an opportunity to meet others experiencing the perimenopause or the menopause and chat about their experiences. 

KC keep the conversation going throughout the year, making menopause a visible and open discussion in the workplace. These conversations are supported informally by menopause ‘champions’ and through continuing to run events and workshops to keep menopause high on the agenda.

Menopause is one of the listed reasons for sickness absence to encourage more accurate recording and ongoing support.

Lessons learned

That menopause has been ‘among us’ all along - gone are the days of whispering about ‘the change’ under your breath. Individuals have been dealing with the impact at work even if they haven’t been talking about it.

Absence due to menopause may largely have gone under-reported, but by opening up the conversation and building awareness this can enable a more holistic approach to wellbeing and how that applies to individuals. This might include any appropriate workplace alterations to better support people, making sure that they and their experience and knowledge can be retained through the understanding and support available from line managers and the employer.

As we continue to raise awareness of the menopause it’s important to realise the ‘taboo’ that can still exist in relation to menstruation and conditions such as endometriosis. If we truly want to be able to discuss menopause we need to address these barriers to conversations too.

We need to keep talking about menopause!

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