Engaging With Menopause At Work
52% of the workforce are affected by menopause, and it is reckoned that nearly a million women, and persons struggling to deal with it and get properly supported at work with it, have left because of it. That is a staggering number, and I suspect only scratches the surface. How many actually report that they are leaving because of menopause? The answer is we simply don't know. How many really struggle on a day-to-day basis, and don't get the support they need from their place of work? The number is probably eye-watering. With it costing an estimated 213% of a person's salary, to replace them, the financial impact on businesses, on top of all the personal and emotional damage, is huge.
Why then, did it take me so long to wake up and see that this was a topic that affected the engagement of a huge proportion of the workforce, and discuss it on the Sticky From The Inside Podcast? Because I'm an idiot, and like a lot of people, not just men, ignorant of the facts, truth and impact of it.
In episode 48, I spoke to Bev Thorogood, the menopause training specialist. She made me feel better by telling me I was not alone in my lack of knowledge. She explained all the ways that it affects people uniquely as they transition through it, and she outlined what was needed to make businesses more aware, and bring much-needed support to the people in our care every day at work.
Below is a full transcript of that conversation, but you can also listen to the episode here.
00:00:10 Andy Goram
Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.
This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.
So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.
00:01:11 Andy Goram
OK, I'm going to be very honest with you. Today's topic is something I've personally wrestled with bringing onto the podcast for some time now.
To be honest, it's not a topic I know tonnes about, but it is beginning to affect my family. I know many people who are touched by this topic and as they get older, I'm sure it's going to hit them even more.
At the same time, I'm embarrassed to say it took me ages to get the link to this topic and the podcast subjects of employee engagement and workplace culture. It took my wife less than a second.
When I spoke to her about it, she gave me one of those looks that immediately makes you think.,
“Oh! I’ve been an idiot, haven’t I?”
And I'm sure I'm not the only one who's had one of those looks.
The subject matter is the Menopause and the effect it can have on employee engagement and well-being in any business. And I sincerely hope this episode goes some way to educating people like me, so I understand more about how it affects the people I care about, but also to get a better understanding of how businesses can and are dealing with this and the positive effects that can have on the women going through it, the other people they work with, and the businesses themselves. After all, 52% of the working population are affected by this. So it actually feels like a complete no brainer as to why we should be talking about it on here, which makes me feel even more stupid for waiting so long. So, let's just get on with it.
To help guide me through this conversation and leave me and I'm sure some of you, with a much better understanding of it all is the lovely, Bev Thorogood.
Now, Bev is a menopause specialist trainer and is breaking down the taboo of the menopause in the workplace and raising awareness for employers, managers and colleagues in dealing with it. And today we're going to get under the skin of the menopause, what it is, how it affects you, and why it's important for more business to understand this stuff and the benefits of doing so.
Welcome to the show, Bev!
00:03:17 Bev Thorogood
Andy, thank you so much and it feels like a long time since we've had a chat so it's lovely to be here. Thank you.
00:03:23 Andy Goram
It does. I mean you are to blame for me having a podcast. You taught me the nuts and bolts of putting this sort of stuff together, for which I am eternally grateful. And it's just nice to have you on here to talk about a topic that I'm a bit of a numpty on, and you are clearly an expert on. And I mean, you've got in two weeks' time, you've got a TEDx talk coming up on this stuff. So I feel... I feel really privileged to get you on here.
00:03:48 Bev Thorogood
Oh, thank you. It's interesting though, because I still sort of quiver a little bit at the word expert, but you know, I think so many of us think, especially women, they think, I should know about this, but the truth is Andy, we don't get taught about it anymore than men do. So, when it does hit for many of us, it's... we're just clueless. So, you know it's not... you're opening lines there about,
“Oh, you know, I feel like I don't know enough about this, and feel a bit ignorant to it.” You're not alone.
Most of us across the board, all genders, have the same lack of understanding.
00:04:28 Andy Goram
I can see that. I don't know whether it's because it's a bit like, you know, when you go and think you're going to go and buy a car and then you've never seen that car on the road before, then all of a sudden you see loads of them everywhere? Because this is now affecting my family, it feels to me like all of a sudden, in the last, maybe 2-3 years, this topic has really come to the fore.
Am I just sort of putting two and two together and getting five, or is there now a groundswell behind this?
00:04:53 Bev Thorogood
I think there is a groundswell. I've been in this arena now for coming up to four years, and I would say there's definitely been a bit of a sea change in how people are talking about menopause. The amount of conversations being had, the media is talking much more about it. We've had, you know, people like Davina McCall and we had a couple of documentaries and Mariella Frostrup a couple of years ago, so it is moving. And I get the... I get the car analogy and I have to sometimes stop and take a step back and think actually everywhere I look people are talking about menopause. But then, that is my day job. That's what I talk about all of the time.
But I think there is a change. And I'm feeling it in the fact that when I do mention what I do for a living, I don't get that same rabbit in the headlights look that I used to get. People are more, “OK. I've seen a lot about menopause at the minute, you know, tell me more about what you do.” And there seems to be more of an openness to go there.
00:06:04 Andy Goram
I would say that has to be true. The temperature check on this is that, I mean, you scroll through LinkedIn now, I would say maybe 1-2 in 20-25 posts, have some kind of link to... maybe not necessarily menopause directly, but associated wellness and what have you. And I think that that's definitely the case.
Before we dig into you guiding me through some questions to help me and the audience understand, I sort of said you were a menopause specialist trainer. So what does that involve? What happens in your day-to-day? What are the sort of things that you're doing, and what are, I guess, the things you're really focused on at the moment?
00:06:42 Bev Thorogood
Yeah, I'm a trainer by trade, if you like, today. I spent the last 10-15 years in my working career, before I gave up work, because of menopause, funnily enough, in the learning and development world. So, basically my businesses specialises in menopause awareness training for businesses. And the reason I do that is because, I'm sure we'll talk about some of the stats, an enormous number of women are doing what I did and leaving their career because of the impact of menopause, often not realising that's what it is. Not asking for or getting the support that they need within the workplace.
So, I guess my raison d'etre if you like, the core reason why I do what I do, is to raise awareness. Without awareness and understanding of the problem, if you don't know there's a problem, you can't fix it. And I think a lot of the time, it's not that businesses are particularly bad at supporting people through menopause, it's just not something that's ever come up before. So they're not aware that there's a problem. And I don't think many people, when they do leave the workplace because of menopause, actually say that that is the reason.
I certainly never had an exit interview in which I said, “I’m leaving, because I'm struggling with menopause.”
So, we've got this sort of exodus of valuable talent, leaving the workplace because of an issue that if we were more aware of it, had greater understanding, better tolerance, we would be hanging on to that talent. So, I guess in practical terms, what do I do? I deliver training, I raise awareness through training interventions for everybody.
So, we have specialist trainings for line managers and for female colleagues who are experiencing symptoms so they can take some control of their own wellbeing. I also talk to HR teams about what they can do to support the menopause conversation within the workplace. How do they embed a culture where it's OK to talk about menopause?
And we offer, you know, I guess the kind of lunch & learn, webinar-style training for all employees, to just give that sort of high-level overview of what is it, what's the impact, how do I recognise it, and what can I do to support colleagues?
We also run a menopause champions programme, which is a six-month supported programme, where people from within an organisation are nominated, or they volunteer to be menopause champions, in much the same way, I guess, you would have mental health first aiders. They're there to be that kind of first point of contact, that listening ear, that conduit between management and the people on the, you know, on the shop floor. And kind of carrying the conversation on.
And finally, we've just launched our e-learning. Sounds like big plug, doesn't it? One of the biggest issues we have, in terms of getting buy in around understanding what menopause is, is trying to encourage managers that it's an important enough topic that they need to take time away from their day job to learn about. So, our workshops are only three hours long, which is great. Because we get loads of engagement, and you get an opportunity to really embed what it is and think about,
“Well, how can? How does this apply in my team, or in my area of responsibility?”
But we did recognise that three hours is a big chunk, so we've just launched... we worked with the L&D team at Channel 4 to create this E-learning module, which is just 30 minutes on demand. You can kind of sneakily go and do it and nobody needs to know you're doing menopause training. And we've kind of condensed the information that they need into there.
So training is the short answer to your original question. “What do we do? We train."
00:10:51 Andy Goram
I mean, that's why it's great to have you on here, because this is a topic you don't have a problem talking about and there's more to it than just delivering training, I know.
And I wrote down 3 words while you were talking, which I think might help us sort of frame some of these conversations and maybe start with some stats and what have you. The sort of three things that came out for me were, retention. You know that link to retention, which is another stupid, no-brainer reason why you should be here. You know, my topics around engagement and culture are all about retention. And so why wouldn't we be talking about this?
Conversation, I think is another keyword. And the one that I've written underneath that is confidence. Because I think, to your point, actually being confident, feeling equipped to even have this conversation, or be able to respond to someone who's been brave enough to come forward and say,
“I'm really struggling with this. What can you do?”
I think that is critical and I want to learn more about that during this conversation.
I did some research. There's loads, right? Let's be honest, there's loads of it. But in an attempt to try and have a better handle on this, I think you mentioned before the scale of people leaving. Well, it's not people. Women leaving businesses...
00:12:07 Bev Thorogood
Well no. It is people. It's not just a purely female issue. You know, there's not a huge amount of research or studies being done, but of course transgender, non-binary people, if they've menstruated at any time in their life, regardless of how they identify now, may well be impacted by this.
00:12:24 Andy Goram
And there you go. There's the first pothole I've fallen into, right? But the number sounded staggering, right? Like 900,000, nearly 1,000,000, does that sound right? Have left work because of menopause.
00:12:38 Bev Thorogood
Now I struggle a little bit with the stats around how many people are leaving the workplace, because how do you quantify that? I left my job. I look back now. I realise menopause was a major factor.
00:12:50 Andy Goram
You never reported it as such.
00:12:51 Bev Thorogood
But I didn't report it. And I would say, the vast majority of people that do leave their place of work because of the menopause, probably didn't report it either. 900,000 I would say, wouldn't be an unrealistic estimate. But I think it's very difficult to quantify. So that came from a report done, I think, it was done by an organization called The Menopause Experts, alongside some other organisations that kind of got together to do this study. But the Fawcett Report came out quite recently, and I think that talked about 330,000. Now that's quite a big difference. 330,000 to 900,000. Do you know what? It really doesn't matter. If more than one person is leaving the workplace because they don't feel supported through what is, in reality a natural life stage, that's a problem we need to address. The fact that it is much, much bigger than that just makes it more urgent.
00:13:49 Andy Goram
It's likely to follow the sort of iceberg model, isn't it? Well, we'll get the reported number. The big number affected underneath is going to be a lot, lot bigger.
I also read a stat, and again call me out if it's bogus or wrong, but women approaching/dealing with the menopause are the fastest growing workforce demographic at the moment.
00:14:14 Bev Thorogood
Yeah, yeah, so I think there's something like 4.4 million women over the age of 50 in the workplace and we are a growing sector of the workforce. Now, menopause doesn't just happen to women in their 50s.
00:14:28 Andy Goram
00:14:33 Bev Thorogood
And I think that's one of the key areas that we try and break down. Some of the misconceptions around this. Menopause is not a middle-aged woman issue. It's a female issue. Well, let me just backtrack on that. I've just contradicted myself. In the main, it's a woman’s issue, but it doesn't just affect women at a certain age. However, about 95% of those who reach menopause will be between 45 and 55, and we know that women over 50 are the fastest growing sector of the workforce and are likely to continue working until they're probably 67 to retirement age if not beyond. You know, we are an aging population, but we're actually... we're aging to the point where we want to continue adding value to the world for longer. So, it could be much later than that.
So, we are going to see more and more women working through their menopause transition and beyond it and it's a bump, but there are a few bumps in the road, shall we say. In that menopause transition which can be sort of 5, 10-15, maybe even 20 years long. So, it's quite a significant bump in the road. But if you consider that where we've got people who are maybe coming into the workforce, 18, 19 working right through until they're 68, 70. It's not that big a transition in the minute. In the middle. In the minute? I don't know where that came from! In the middle. So if we can support women to be able to continue to add value to the workplace, it just makes sense. It makes economic sense. It makes social sense, it makes every kind of sense not to lose those women. When, you know, most people are kind of their, I don't want to say the peak of their career in their 40s and 50s, 'cause I think that suggests that it's all downhill after that. And I don't believe that's the case. But we've probably had 25, maybe 30 years of skills, knowledge, experience building, and we've got this point in time where we're really ready to bring those skills and experience to the table and we're not recognising this bump in the road.
00:16:55 Andy Goram
See, I think that's really important, because that is a material loss to a business. When you think of the skills, knowledge, experience that that individual has built up at that point.
Again, I read somewhere that on an average salary of £30k say, losing that woman at that point to menopause, or other things, likely costs about £25k to replace, in terms of experience, training, getting someone up to speed, and all of that kind of catch up, right?
00:17:26 Bev Thorogood
Well, I've heard a different stat.
So I heard it costs on average 213% of the person’s salary to be able to replace them.
00:17:33 Andy Goram
Well, there you go then.
00:17:36 Bev Thorogood
And again, what is it they say?
“There's lies, damn lies and statistics.”
So, we never know whether they're right or not, but...
00:17:42 Andy Goram
There’s an impact.
00:17:43 Bev Thorogood
It’s costly, it's going to be costly. Recruitment is costly.
00:17:46 Andy Goram
Yeah, and I think the point being, at this life stage, and in general in someone’s career point, mid 40s – 50s, there's a lot to replace. It's not like a new starter who's only just sort of like getting their feet wet at work, right? This is somebody who's built up a great deal of experience. And you might be able to replace that, but it's going to come at a cost. It's going to come at a cost. I think that's kind of the point here.
I wonder whether we can just maybe look at some basics for us, right? So, there's, I guess, there's two things I would like to try and understand and cover. How women are mainly affected, what are the sort of main ways it would manifest itself, and particularly how that affects people at work? And then, whether within that Bev, you can kind of like bust some preconceptions. You've already started today. Some of the biggest preconceptions that people will have around its prevalence and its effect on the workforce.
00:18:46 Bev Thorogood
Absolutely. So, I think to kind of go to basics we have to start with, “Well, what is it?”
00:18:52 Andy Goram
00:18:53 Bev Thorogood
You know, what is it? So menopause itself is just one day. It's the date 12 consecutive period-free months from the date of the woman’s last period. It's a diagnostic line in the sand that says, this woman has now reached menopause. She can't have babies anymore. She’s not producing any eggs. Let's stop her period.
Oh! if it were only one day!
That is the kind of diagnostic line inside. Which for many women is actually really quite difficult to know. You know there's lots of factors that can disguise that day. Anything, so from that day of menopause onwards until a woman dies, she's post-menopausal. Before that, she's premenopausal. So, a normal reproductive year, she's premenopausal. What we're really talking about when we're talking about menopause in the workplace is perimenopause. And it's the time leading up to, and for someone a few years post-menopause, when they're likely to be symptomatic. And the symptoms are caused by fluctuating hormones.
So, if you think about our hormones as the kind of the chemical messengers that keep all of our bodily functions working as they should, when we enter perimenopause, some of them get a bit wonky. That's a technical medical term.
00:20:07 Andy Goram
It sounds like very scientific, yeah.
00:20:09 Bev Thorogood
So, the three... I mean there are lots of hormones at play, but the three key hormones that affect women in perimenopause are oestrogen, which we would expect, progesterone, but also testosterone. So...
00:20:22 Andy Goram
And this is the interesting point, isn't it? I think this is not known by lots of people.
00:20:27 Bev Thorogood
Yeah, we tend to think of them as males have testosterone, women have oestrogen. We all have all of them in different relative amounts. But when women enter perimenopause, and their ovaries start to release eggs more sporadically as they head towards menopause, they get a bit wonky.
My hands going up and down, 'cause it's kind of like, you know, it's like a sine wave, if you like, of our hormones fluctuating. So, some days will be high, some days will be low. When they're high we feel great. When they're on a low, we feel crap. I don't know how else to put it. And this can last, you know, anywhere from sort of 4, right up to 10 years before somebody reaches menopause.
So, the average age in the UK, if you believe in averages, for a woman to reach menopause, is 51. I want to throw that number out the window, 'cause it there are so many variables. But in general women will get there between 45 and 55. But about 1 in 100 go through under the age of 40. And about 1 in 1000 under the age of 30. So it's definitely not an age thing. So when we talked about misconceptions, you know the idea that it's an older woman issue, it's bunkum. You know, it can and most women will start to feel the impact of perimenopause somewhere in their sort of early to mid 40s, and it kind of ramps up as they get closer to 50s.
In terms of how that manifests?
There's no one-size-fits-all. You can't say women in perimenopause will experience this, or will look like this. There are more than 40 symptoms related to menopause, so it's very hard to say this is what it will look like.
What we do know though, is that there are certain patterns of symptoms that seem to cause the most distress for a lot of women. Hot flushes is the obvious one. We tend to associate hot flushes with menopause, and mood swings, and you know that sort of emotional rollercoaster. But I think that what I've started to realise over the last six years since I've been going through this, is that actually, it's the cognitive and the psychological symptoms that cause the most distress. Brain fog. Our brains rely on an awful lot of oestrogen. It's a neurotransmitter. It modulates other hormones that are going on in the brain, such as dopamine. Incidentally, it’s what my Ted Talk is going to be about.
00:22:49 Andy Goram
00:22:52 Bev Thorogood
So, the brain can be affected quite significantly, and lots of women worry that they’re getting early onset dementia because their brain fog manifests as poor word recall, inattentiveness, lack of concentration, poor focus, memory loss. And not just kind of absentmindedly forgetting stuff, 'cause we all do that, but having almost like blank areas in the brain.
You know I could be having this conversation with you, Andy, in 2 hours' time somebody will say, “Oh so you had a chat with Andy?” And I go, “Did I? What did I talk about?” And I won't remember. Now, can you imagine, in the workplace, how devastating that would be?
00:23:39 Andy Goram
It would be awful, wouldn't it? I mean, these are some of the symptoms that have been the ones that have triggered in me far more interest than I would have maybe had before. With Heather, my wife, that brain fog has been a worry for her. Because we can both... I mean, I don't have the greatest memory in the world anyway, but we could both be sitting there thinking about words that we can't remember, or we can have a conversation about what each other is doing, and then moments later well, we've never had that conversation, almost.
00:24:11 Bev Thorogood
Thing is, Andy, if you're... if you know that you've always been like that. You've always had a bit of a, “I’ve never had a good memory”, that actually you've learned to live with it, and it's just part of who you are. If you've always felt like your brain was really sharp, like you had a, you know your memory was always on point, that you never had, you know, anxiety around some simple things like getting in the car and driving down the motorway, and all of a sudden you're seeing changes and you don't know why they're happening. That's when it becomes problematic for women.
00:24:44 Andy Goram
That's unnerving, isn't it?
00:24:44 Bev Thorogood
Massively, you know, so many women tell me and I, I get this myself from my own experience,
“Am I getting early onset dementia?”
00:24:52 Andy Goram
00:24:53 Bev Thorogood
What's going on here? I should be able to remember this stuff. I've always been able to juggle loads of tasks at once and stay on top of everything. And I could go into meetings and I’d have everything I needed in my head and now I'm making notes on notes on notes, because I'm really worried I'm going to forget something. And you're second guessing every decision you make. Imagine what that does to your self-confidence or self-esteem? And it's those psychological and cognitive... that kind of collision that happened when the cognition starts to get disrupted, erodes confidence, self-esteem, impostor syndrome comes up quite regularly. And I know I'm not sure I particularly like the words “impostor syndrome”. I think it kind of gives the wrong meaning, but self-doubt. You start to second guess and self-doubt yourself.
00:25:47 Andy Goram
And when you do that, you withdraw, right? In yourself you withdraw. Now in a work environment, to see somebody who was all over it, snappy and seemed really engaged and on it, to then see them withdraw, without having any thought about what we're talking about today, you can wrongly get the impression, “Well they've checked out. They're not really with us anymore, they're...”
00:26:11 Bev Thorogood
Not engaged, yeah.
00:26:11 Andy Goram
If they're not engaged and not performing, then “Gotta keep an eye on that person.”
00:26:17 Bev Thorogood
I think there's another element to this as well, especially when you've got younger people within the organisation and there's... and I'm so guilty of this. I look back to my younger days seeing some of the older women that I worked with and thinking,
“Oh! She's a bit doolally. What's the matter with her?” you know, “Maybe she should retire, you know, she's obviously lost the plot!”
And I, to my shame, I think I was guilty of that. And I get it. But had I been better educated, had I understood that actually, she's not past it, she's just having a few wobbles because of hormonal changes. And I think actually the younger generation coming through now are much more clued up to mental health and all of the other bits that go with it. So it wouldn't be difficult to educate them.
00:27:01 Andy Goram
I, I think they're ready for it. I mean, the conversations I have around the dinner table with my 18 and 16-year-old are way, way deeper and more philosophical and more aware of so many more things than I was at that age. So I think you're right. I think they're ready for this stuff. They'll take it on. There's a greater thirst for that awareness, I think in that sort of generation.
00:27:21 Bev Thorogood
I hope so.
00:22:22 Andy Goram
So yeah, well, that would be a nice hopeful thing to have in our mind, wouldn't it?
So, if these are the kind of like, I hate to use the word “major” because everyone’s being affected differently, but perhaps some of the more common things that are being affected, how are we seeing these things now dealt with in a business sense? What are a lot of the businesses that you're talking to, having to deal with? How are they dealing with it? How do you help them?
00:27:48 Bev Thorogood
Oh! That's a $50 million question. I think that there's so many facets to this. First of all, the individual who's experiencing the problems has got to talk about it, has got to open up. Because let's face it, if nobody knows there's a problem you can't fix it. And I'm going to backtrack on that, 'cause you can't fix menopause. Nothing’s broken. But if you're not aware that there's a problem, you can't support it. Put it that way. So, in order for people to feel comfortable to open up about what we're going through you have to have a culture where they feel safe and where they're not going to fear that it's going to be in any way career limiting, or that they're going to be disadvantaged in any way or ridiculed, or you know...
I talked to somebody the other day who had had a conversation with her manager. A male manager, unfortunately. And she was trying to explain to him the brain fog and the impact it was having on her work. And his response was,
“Well, I hope you don't think you can use menopause as an excuse.”
00:28:50 Andy Goram
What? He actually said?
00:28:52 Bev Thorogood
00:28:53 Andy Goram
What? In today's land?
00:28:53 Bev Thorogood
In today’s world, yeah. It still happens, you know. And she left feeling even kind of more concerned and worried that she's struggling and she didn't speak up about it because it's not going to be received well, uhm. So... I've lost my train of thought that's menopause for you, Andy.
So yes, you've got to make it safe for women to be able to open up, or people to open up about what they're going through, and that means you've got to step back beyond the point of which there's an issue. You can't wait until somebody’s got an issue to start putting in place a culture that makes it safe. So I think organisations really need to look, or certainly from the top down, I think it's got to come from the senior management, senior leaders saying,
“We recognise and we appreciate that there are issues that some of our employees will go through as we go through the menopause transition.”
But quite honestly, if they don't, they're short-sighted, because we've already spoken about the kind of... the exodus of women leaving the workplace. How do they do that? I think it's got to start with understanding and awareness and education. It's got to be let's understand the issues, let's look at our systems or processes or policies. Are they Menopause-friendly?
I'm actually not a huge, I was going to say, not a huge fan of policy. There's definitely a place for a menopause policy, but I don't think it has to start there. In fact, I would say it definitely shouldn't start there. I think you can look at your existing policies, absence management, performance management, ED&I and look at all of those. Well-being strategy, is it menopause-friendly? Look at those policies through the lens of medical symptoms.
00:30:41 Andy Goram
I was just going to say without wanting to sound like a complete idiot, when you say menopause-friendly, what does it you really mean by that?
00:30:50 Bev Thorogood
I suppose that's a really good question. I suppose I mean creating an environment where somebody who is experiencing menopause-related symptoms can get the support and the help that they need, but without having to jump through hoops. Without having to face the embarrassment of saying, “I've got this problem.” Where it's just a normal conversation. “Look. I’ve broken my ankle. I need to be able to have a workstation where I can put my leg up.” We wouldn't think twice.
We need to be able to have an environment where it's safe to be able to say, “I’m struggling with menopause symptoms. This is the support that I need.” And in reality, most of that support, is fairly easy to put in place, you know. We've got the obvious things like localised cooling. Giving somebody the opportunity to get a desk fan. But not everybody who's going through menopause works at a desk, but it could be looking at uniform policies. It could be looking at working times, that start and finish times. Flexible work and working from home. Covid’s done a huge amount in terms of moving that element forward. But also just maybe, if somebody is really struggling with hot flushes, being able to take more regular breaks so they can go and find a, I like to call it a “decompression room” where, you know, or if somebody is feeling a bit overwhelmed or anxious, which is very, very common, they can take a step back, walk away. Because most of the time, you know, there's nothing worse than having somebody who's menopausal on your team, and everybody walking around on eggshells.
00:32:31 Andy Goram
00:32:32 Bev Thorogood
Uhm, so this is where I think you know that the menopause-friendly environment is, “OK. We recognise you're having an off day. We're not going to walk around on eggshells, we're just going to say, you know, what, go and take a break. You're getting overwhelmed. Go and take a break and come back when you're feeling more like yourself.” Where you can talk about it, you know.
I think you mentioned "conversation" earlier. It has to start with making it easy to... that's my dog, sorry. Making it easier to have conversations.
00:33:03 Andy Goram
I think that eggshell thing is important as well, though, you mentioned on the other side. So take someone, like me, in my career as a manager or as a leader. There's a whole piece around giving me the tools and confidence to have conversations without the fear of embarrassing somebody, embarrassing myself, putting my foot in it, causing a problem when there shouldn't really be one. I mean, these are all the silly things that will fly around your head in trying to approach a conversation with something you're not holy au fait with, right? And sometimes in today's world, the risk of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Maybe not intending to, but delivering that is a real thing, I think.
00:33:45 Bev Thorogood
And I think there's a responsibility on women themselves to make it easy for other people to have the conversation with them. To not take offense. And I've always said, a well-intentioned but clumsy comment, or clumsy wording... somebody says something that's well-intentioned, but a bit clumsy, let's not rip them apart. Let's recognise that this is an uncomfortable conversation and us being offended by somebody’s maybe misguided choice of words, as long as it's not coming from a place of ridicule, you know, there's a very different...
00:34:26 Andy Goram
00:34:26 Bev Thorogood
sort of thing going on there. But if somebody is genuinely interested in trying to do their best to support you and they just happen to use a bit of terminology that on a better day, you'd probably want them to use different wording, let's not shoot them down in flames. Let's make it easy. But I think we have got, you know, we've got an awful lot to unpick and unravel, and kind of reverse. The whole... I don't know if you remember the Les Dawson, when he's dressed as a you know...
00:35:01 Andy Goram
00:35:02 Bev Thorogood
Yeah. So helping up the boobs and you know, that stereotypical middle-aged woman, menopausal woman, we've got to unpick that and get away from it. And I think that's where the offence is often taken, is that you know, you're implying I'm old. You're implying I'm past it. We've got a kind of... us women have to get over that, but also we've got to recognise that there's a whole load of societal stuff that's already built up, that we've kind of got to unpick as well.
00:35:32 Andy Goram
I totally agree with that, but I think you know, I would always want to advocate and stand on a soapbox for a human leadership style. I just think that is befitting of the people who go to work, the people that are in your care. So for me this is an extension of that human leadership, of taking an interest in someone's welfare. In being authentic and genuine with them and doing whatever it is you need to do to enable them to bring their best self and give you their best effort, right?
I mean, I think it's the extension of that.
00:36:06 Bev Thorogood
And I think you know, it comes down to respect. Having respect for the fact that we are different. And whilst you might not understand or have the experience that somebody is going through, you can still have empathy. I talk about the three Cs a lot. I talk about communication, which everything starts with communication.
00:36:25 Andy Goram
Of course it does.
00:36:26 Bev Thorogood
I mean it, you know it's it feels cliche but everything starts with communication. If you don't have the conversations and let's face it, if you're a manager, part of the reason that you're paid as a manager is to occasionally have to have uncomfortable conversations. You can't get around that. So, the conversation has to be heard. The communication has to happen. But if it can happen from a place of curiosity and compassion... they are my 3 Cs - communicate with curiosity and compassion. It takes a lot of the pressure off the line manager to be the expert, or to have all the answers. And you know, curiosity, for me is, you know I don't understand everything. If you came to me with a “man-issue”, I'm not going to understand it, but I can find out. Tell me more about that. Tell me how that's impacting you. What sort of things can we do to support that? Ask questions. Don't try to fix things.
I think sometimes managers, and I get it, they're problem solvers. And they feel that there's a problem that needs to be solved.
Menopause is not another problem to be solved.
00:37:33 Andy Goram
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
00:37:33 Bev Thorogood
But you know, we're not a problem to fix. But asking questions, getting curiosity, getting curious rather, and coming at it from a place of compassion. So you know, I try to understand and empathise with what somebody is going through, and not judge. Not, you know, questioning your own assumptions. Self-awareness should be you know, self-awareness in a manager should be inherent. Really, you know, if you're not aware of your own assumptions and your own biases it's going to be very difficult. And we all have biases, don't we? You know, we all do make assumptions, but having that willingness to ask questions and find out is so important. So yeah, my 3 Cs.
00:38:21 Andy Goram
I love that. I really love that, and it does end up coming back to exactly what you say. And the self-awareness piece through any manager in any situation is incredibly important. Because you need to understand, well you need to understand your impact on the world, as well as how you can better influence other people, right? That's a lot of the personality stuff that I am doing sometimes, those are the biggest light bulbs that go on for people. They’re like, “Oh! I had no idea. That's not what I meant.” Well, that might not be what you mean, but that's how you're perceived. And I find that fascinating.
00:38:48 Bev Thorogood
Yeah, and I think you know we talk a lot about diversity in the workforce, and we think about race and we think about gender and we think about those sort of all normal kind of diversity issues. But we often don't think about the fact that we just have diversity of perspectives. We have diversity of, you know, neurodiversity. We don't all think the same. And I think when it comes to kind of menopause, staying on topic here, there's a diversity of how people will experience menopause as well. So even if you're you know, you tend to focus on male managers don't get this, they need to know more. Actually, if you're a woman and you've gone through menopause, you've only got your own experience. You only got your own perspective, so even then you've got to get curious. You've got to be asking what the other person is going through and put in support for them, in a kind of, on a case-by-case basis, what do you need? What would help you?
00:39:51 Andy Goram
I think that's incredibly interesting because you do end up stereotyping, don't you? You know, “Well, I've done it. Therefore that's what you're experiencing.” It's the same as that self-awareness piece.
So what should businesses be doing then, Bev?
00:40:05 Bev Thorogood
Yeah, I think you know, raising the subject, making it easy to talk about the subject. So you know, that there are kind of best practice measures. So having a policy or guidance documents, awareness training for all employees, particularly line managers helping managers to feel confident to have the conversations. But also looking as I said earlier, looking at their policies, looking at their systems and processes, making sure that they're not detrimental. There's a legal obligation here. You know from a health and safety point of view, we need to be making sure that systems aren't unsafe for those experiencing menopause. Now that's a big one. It's actually you've got women who haven't actually said that they have no problem. So I'd say look at look all of your tasks, especially safety-critical ones. Just have a glance at it through the lens of menopause symptoms, and most of them won't be just menopause, you know, if you've got somebody who's, I don't know, using a piece of machinery, or driving a vehicle where there's a safety implication, and you've got somebody who's had a really, really bad night’s sleep - night sweats, awake five times in the night, absolutely exhausted, and come into work, you'd make an assessment of that person and their safety to go and handle that bit of machinery or that vehicle. That's not just menopause. Get a man who’s just had a brand new baby, you're probably going to have similar issues. So I think it's just looking, understanding symptoms and looking at processes and systems and tasks through the lens of menopause. And not do it, not make it a tick box exercise, I think.
Come back to your original question. What can businesses do? There's an awful lot of
“Oh, let's do lunch and learn. Let's put a webinar on. OK, we've done that. We've done menopause, well done.”
And we've got World Menopause Day coming up on the 18th of October, and lots and lots of organisations will be raising awareness of menopause on that day, and that's brilliant. I'm absolutely not suggesting that that shouldn't happen. But women aren't menopausal for one day a year, you know, so it has to be a conversation that's continued. And I'm working with some businesses that are doing amazing things in terms of really, really understanding how their industry might come, support or be a barrier to somebody who's gone through menopause. And they’re embedding menopause champions within their organisation, so that you know, they can use internal resources to keep the conversation going.
They're putting on that, you know, putting together employee resource groups and things specifically around menopause, sometimes broader than that. And the BBC are doing some great work around just life issues, you know? How could we support people as they're going through their life? Because let's face it, as humans we have complicated lives and sometimes we need more support than other times. So I think the things that I think businesses can do more than anything is raise awareness and keep the conversation going.
00:43:25 Andy Goram
Perfect. I've come to this point in the show now Bev, that I call Sticky Notes. I'm asking you now if you could, to try and summarize your best three pieces of advice for anyone thinking of dealing with this at work, that they could stick on 3 little post-it notes and take away.
00:43:42 Bev Thorogood
I don't think they'd be tips, but I think there would be 3 areas to concentrate on.
Uhm, so on my first sticky note I would have emblazoned in big letters “EDUCATE.” Educate your staff. Educate yourself. If you are a woman going through this, or a person going through this, educate yourself. If you’re an organisation. Educate your people.
Second, Sticky Note would be “ADVOCATE.” So speak out. You know it's all very well having training in place, but actually, we need people. We need allies. We need male allies in the workplace. We need advocates who will speak out for those who maybe don't want to talk about their own issues. Advocate for yourself, you know. To advocate is to speak on somebody's behalf. Speak on your own behalf. If you're struggling, speak out.
And the third one would be “FACILITATE.” Make it easy for people to be able to ask for help and support. Make it easy for your manager to be able to talk to you about menopause. Make it easy for people to find the information that you might be sharing within the workplace. If you've got a policy, make it easy for people to access it.
So there you go. They’re my 3. Educate, advocate, facilitate.
00:45:02 Andy Goram
I really like those. I mean they are a good rule of thumb for anybody to take forward, I think, with this sort of stuff. A good place to start.
Bev, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
00:45:15 Bev Thorogood
It's been my pleasure. Thank you.
00:45:17 Andy Goram
And best of luck with the TEDx talk. Can't wait to see that.
00:45:19 Bev Thorogood
Thank you. Yeah, I’m excited about it.
00:45:23 Andy Goram
Well, I look forward to seeing it. You take care, my friend.
00:45:26 Bev Thorogood
00:45:27 Andy Goram
OK. That was Bev Thorogood. And if you'd like to find out a bit more about her or any of the things that we've discussed in today's show, please check out the show notes.
00:45:40 Andy Goram
That concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.
If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky From The Inside podcast. until next time, thanks for listening.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.