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How do you solve a problem like... helping staff navigate menopause?

How can employers create better policies for staff going through menopause?

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

The modern workplace is a difficult environment to navigate for people going through the menopause. According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, three-in-five of those experiencing symptoms while at work say it has a negative impact on their performance.

Clearly there’s a business case, as well as a moral one, for making staff as comfortable as possible in the workplace. So, how can employers ensure they are providing the right support to make sure staff are enabled to work at their best, and stave off an exodus of talent?

How do you solve a problem like... helping staff navigate menopause?

Helen Matthews, chief people officer, Ogilvy

At Ogilvy UK, we launched our policy on International Menopause Day in 2019, very much through the lens of our employee experience. What were the practical things we could do to support? How could we ensure we retain top talent who were either perimenopausal or right in the eye of the storm? As one of the first companies to adopt this policy, it was important to start the conversation and attempt to break the stigma.

Things have now evolved considerably. Our Bupa cover has been expanded to cover menopause wellness checks and subsequent supporting medical advice and help. We’ve held a number of educational events open to both our own women and partners of our staff – and importantly, for our men to attend too. Since we launched the first iteration of the policy, we have been inundated with messages from staff; from those who said they were nowhere near but so pleased to know we have a policy, to those asking me for a conversation about working more flexibly. ’Corridor’ conversations are opening up, with women sharing their stories much more freely with others.

Rukaya El-Turki, co-chair, M&C Saatchi Group Equals Network

Menopause mostly impacts older women, but it is also experienced by younger women too. This is one example of why it’s important to educate employees on the effect menopause can have on those experiencing it and how to support them through it. M&C Saatchi Group launched a menopause policy in 2019 to help raise awareness of the symptoms and equip women with resources and tools that support them through it. Change needs to be instigated by policy that is accessible to everyone, enabling women to work around their symptoms as well as offering them the work environment that supports them through it.

Melissa Roberts, chief executive officer, Dark Horses

So here’s my conundrum: do people even bother to read policies unless it’s relevant to them? Do I write a policy when I am the only person in the agency who is menopausal?

A startling statistic is that only 5% of the ad industry is over 50. My optimistic guess is that 10% of these are women. The others were worn down by being punished for having babies, for being undervalued and overlooked in favor of men, for being marginalized and ignored as they got older. They weren’t properly supported, championed or recognized. They weren’t empathized with. So they left the industry.

Back to the menopause. I have recently very publicly written about being menopausal. About how it’s affecting my mind and my body. I’m sweaty, achy, sleep-deprived and my brain is like a hunk of emmental cheese, struggling to remember basic words, names and places. I’ve worked hard to come up with some coping mechanics to manage it, but by far and away the most effective tool has been openness and honesty. It’s not shameful, it’s not a taboo. It’s something that 50% of the world goes through for up to 10 years. So why shouldn’t we talk about it?

I need someone to jump in when I can’t remember something. They can’t do that if they don’t know about it. I need some kindness and empathy when it’s a bad day, and I don’t want to make some pony excuse of ‘feeling a bit off color’. I’m menopausal, my hormones are raging, and while I’m doing my very best to manage it, experiencing the fear of hot flushes or mindstorms is far easier when people have got your back.

So, do we have a menopause policy at Dark Horses? Not yet, but I’m working on it. And I’m not going to write it so that it just sits on some metaphorically dusty old shelf, or so it can be published for public recognition and adoration. I’m going to take people through it, and help them really understand what it’s all about. I’m not just writing it for me, I’m writing it for my colleagues so that they can help, and for those who, much further down the line, will begin to go through it. It’ll have all the stuff about fans, flexible working and paid leave. It’ll talk about access to support through partnerships with health assured and vitality. But most importantly, it will talk about what menopause really means, and how you can help and support those going through it. It’ll encourage open dialogue. It will normalize it. And hopefully, more than 10% of 5% of people in the industry will eventually get the benefit of it.

Paula Cunnington, chief talent officer, Publicis Groupe UK

The most important thing that we need to do is listen to the experiences of people going through the menopause and create safe spaces and environments where they feel able to have an open conversation. The menopause is still a taboo subject within business environments and a sensitive topic for many individually. Before any menopause policy can even dream of being effective in the way it needs to be, we must address the taboo around talking about this issue and create working environments where people are given the support, time and resources that are needed.

Not everyone’s experience is the same. Which is why it’s essential that policies be flexible, reliable and inclusive at every point through the menopause journey, whether that’s to do with where people choose to work, the office environment or in raising awareness of and educating employees, and specifically people managers, so that people feel supported and safe when talking about their experience.

Elizabeth Harris, chief strategy officer, Arc Worldwide

Why can we openly talk about puberty and pregnancy, but menopause still feels taboo? I see two solves. At the corporate level, programming that drives awareness, education and policy, equipping staff with the understanding of symptoms their female colleagues may be dealing with and creating policies around flexible workspaces and employee health resources.

At the cultural level, let’s use our collective talent as marketers to reframe this stage of life that every woman will go through, from feeling shameful to empowering. Hot flashes become ’power surges’, menopause becomes ’freedom from menstruation’, the beginning of an empowering chapter of life.

Carolyn Stebbings, managing director, Code Worldwide

Having come through the menopause a more confident leader, I’m an advocate of conversation and education over policy. We’ve run both women-only and mixed sessions to educate. We advocate for line managers understanding it could be the menopause that’s affecting your team member, not that they need putting on a PIP.

We have Menopause Champions taking every opportunity to raise awareness and be available to chat. We run sessions with leading medical lights in this area: Dr Newson for those experiencing the menopause as an individual, colleague or family member and Dr Goodwin helping those in their 30s understand what to look out for. Don’t make it a tick box exercise with a back-office policy – at Rapp and Code we live and breathe it as part of life.

Stephanie Marks, managing director, Havas Media

We aim to make our workplace comfortable for everyone, recognizing that everyone has different needs – and this is another one of those needs. Raising awareness and educating our staff about menopause are both central to our policy.

We encourage our managers to create an open environment where team members experiencing menopausal symptoms can talk about how they are feeling and the support they need. People’s experiences of menopause vary, so it’s essential that our approach is very tailored and personalized to cater for everyone – whether that’s offering a flexible working arrangement or access to counselling or medical advice.

Lucy Doubleday, managing partner, We Are Social

Just over a year ago, the amazing Jo Fuller from the Merry Menopause spoke to our whole team about what it’s like to go through the menopause. Even if it wasn’t something that directly affected everyone, it was useful to help understand what mums, sisters, friends or colleagues might be going through or facing soon.

From a personal perspective, the symptoms of the perimenopause have become more familiar to me. There are days when I could conquer the world and days where I can barely string a sentence together, so I’m aware of how it can have a real impact on every aspect of women’s lives. While we have strong support systems in place for those who are struggling for any reason, we haven’t yet implemented any formal policies around dealing with the menopause – but it’s something that’s certainly on our radar for the near future.

Jody Hall, PR partner, 23Red

We can’t keep losing experienced, valued women from the workforce due to a lack of support around the menopause. We are on a mission with online menopause clinic My Menopause Centre to set about changing this, starting with ourselves.

Next week we are undertaking company-wide training on how to support affected colleagues (and mums, partners, sisters, clients); we are drafting our menopause policy and we are offering our female staff private appointments with trained menopause doctors. It’s a great example of collaborating with our clients to improve the health and wellbeing of our staff.

Each week, we pick a new topic for discussion. Want to join in? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com to be included in future editions of this series.

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