“Find the joy in the journey” – Jacqueline Escolme

The awareness of the very real stories of women and their harrowing, lonely, dismissive, impactful and sometimes traumatising experience of Menopause is growing every day. What was once only seen as a whispered taboo phase of life is now starting to be seen as a notable and worthy period of time that needs addressing at work and in life. This is why talking menopause at work is needed now more than ever.

We still have far to go but it’s refreshing to see the walls and the stigma slowly start to break down. We’ve often taken precedence from past “taboo” topics such as stress, pregnancy, paternity leave and mental health, that bringing Menopause to the forefront was possible. These topics didn’t become cultural norms overnight but through ongoing perseverance and awareness they’ve become more accepted and supported. 

What could be possible?

We know through the experience of the UK and the US, that change is possible and although they continue to fight similar battles they are making great headway in bringing to this women, men, communities, businesses and Government. It’s giving us hope here that the tidal wave of acceptance, awareness and change will reach our shores and will create the change we want to see. 

It’s here in our Australian workplaces where we can create the greatest ripple effect in supporting women of all ages – those who are in Perimenopause, post Menopause and those who are not there yet but will one day. A generation of women who want to be seen and heard for their ambitious nature, their commitment to their passionate work and sustained fulfilling career. It is here in the workplace where women can either thrive or simply fight to survive as they navigate Perimenopause. Some careers will perish, others will be deeply impacted and some will continue despite this change of life. 

Every single woman will go through Perimenopause. And every single woman’s experience will be unique to her. There will be no cookie cutter approach to the change or a checklist of symptoms that every woman will endure. But, we can all be prepared with the knowledge of what Menopause is and why we go through it. It is only through this initial understanding that we then can recognise what we need for support or how to give support. 

The workplace can be a tricky environment to introduce this topic, we understand that completely. There are conflicting views on what is most important for our people, what wellbeing looks like to the business, the competitive nature of our careers and of course the ever changing legislation impacting businesses. But female representation in leadership and retaining women in their careers is equally an important strategy that businesses have. Offering the support around Perimenopause can be a powerful contributor to this strategy. 

How do you start Talking Menopause at Work?

We’ve had countless conversations about where to start and sometimes it can be as simple as just starting. But introducing a “taboo” and personal topic such as this needs knowledge, care and compassion. The first interaction for a woman and the immediate response back to her vulnerability is critical. It is important for her own psychological safety, for her ability to open up and ask for help and for her interest in remaining with her organisation. Aaron Jarden, Senior Lecturer of Auckland University devised a simple and integrated model for workplace wellbeing – ME, WE, US.  Its simplicity offers a rationale for assessment and intervention to maximise the benefits of such initiatives. 

We have seen great merit in applying the same model to Perimenopause and Menstruation in the workplace. The model affords the lens that there are distinct levels across a business and similarly to wellbeing initiatives.  This topic needs to be understood and the language used across the entire business at each of these levels – employee level (me), team level (we) and organisation level (us).

An Integrated Approach

ME – is the woman herself. The one who will experience the change and transformation of Perimenopause. Lasting anywhere from 7 – 14 years, the symptoms and changes can be challenging, confusing and impactful. The greatest challenge for a lot of women is that they do not know what is happening to them with many feeling like “something is wrong with me”. It is here where we can make the greatest impact on a woman’s experience and awareness around the support she may need. Education and awareness is important at this level for both women and men to shine a light on the what, why and how of women’s physiology and life phases. 

WE – are the teams within a business. The “work community” that the woman is and wants to be part of. At the team level we can play an important role in creating a psychologically safe environment. The woman herself wants to be able to bring her true self to work and be open about how she is feeling. She wants to know that she can speak with her manager and colleagues and not be dismissed. It’s important to acknowledge that for what is seen, there is a lot not seen. It’s only through open communication can the woman and her team appreciate and support her experience. Developing the skill of courageous conversations for both the woman and her manager is critical. There is likely a level of discomfort on both sides and leading with compassion, empathy and gratitude will go a long way to supporting the employee’s performance and wellbeing. 

US – the wider business. It is through this level that strategies and tasks can create great ripple effects across the entire workplace. There may be opportunities for policies and an acceptance of this topic within existing wellbeing strategies. Providing targeted health and wellbeing support for women and men with the aim of supporting longevity in their careers and healthy ageing. It is here that role modelling behaviour and support will be critical for the generations, young women particularly coming through. 

It’s no secret that introducing change across a business is challenging – it’s even harder to introduce a topic that is private, personal and painted with a “taboo” slant. With women themselves unprepared for this phase, we can’t expect businesses to know what to do or accept this topic into their business unequivocally. But we can start to have conversations at each of the distinct levels across a business. We can work collectively together to give feedback.  We can use language that is encouraging and inclusive.  Together, we can make this phase of life a more enjoyable journey for all touched by it. 

At Own Your Health Collective we have launched a new program Unpicking Women’s Health at Work. Contact us to learn more about how this program could be a game changer for your workplace

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