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Let's talk about the menopause

Breaking the taboo around talking about the menopause

Prospect reps at the UK Hydrographic Office are leading the way in tackling the stigma and embarrassment around the menopause



Almost eight in ten (78%) male respondents to a Prospect survey of members in the union’s public service branches came from the UKHO.

The survey revealed that less than half (45%) of women were comfortable talking to their bosses about menopause symptoms – even though managers are a key route to getting reasonable adjustments.

The original impetus for the union’s work around the menopause came from Janine Gielbert, a rep in the Animal and Plant Health Agency, who realised there was a lack of support, information and resources.

Janine said; “Being in my forties, I found more and more people in my circle of friends and family being confronted with the variety of menopause symptoms, with some experiencing these earlier than others.

“As Prospect’s membership covers a relatively large proportion of industries where women have been traditionally under-represented, I figured there must be a substantial contingent of women struggling to get support and that their male colleagues might find it equally difficult to get information on how to provide the right support.”

Janine put a motion to the union’s conference in 2018 which kickstarted activity. “I was elated when the motion was supported by those present. Prospect has gone quite a bit further than the requested actions in the original motion so I couldn’t be happier,” she said.

How UKHO reps engaged so many male respondents

UKHO branch secretary Benjamin Caile said: “UKHO reps enjoy the face-to-face contact with colleagues.

“We took the time to talk to each person on what is a very taboo subject and our male reps were equally supportive.

“I think sharing our ignorance was pretty important. A few conversations with reps opened with, ‘I had no idea about the effects of the menopause until I read this’.

“This helped to break the ice and also helped us to empathise with the people we were talking to, who in many cases were equally ill-informed. We certainly avoided being preachy.”

Menopause awareness workshop

Prospect was invited to a workshop run by the women’s network at the Department of Health. Members and non-members shared their stories about the menopause – and the challenges they faced at work. 

Organiser Cuan Webster who went along said: “I was really nervous and embarrassed about attending. Over 40 minutes my discomfort was replaced by horror at how common and how serious symptoms can be for almost half of all UK workers. 

“Some of the attendees didn’t know that they could ask for reasonable adjustments for their symptoms.

“The workshop showed me that the obstacles to helping these women workers was their

shame and embarrassment – and that of their male colleagues.

“Most menopause campaigns we have run have struggled to get men to engage – but without them, destigmatising the subject will be a challenge,” Cuan concluded.

The group decided that reducing the stigma around the menopause and encouraging the employer to put together a menopause policy should be a priority.

Resources

Prospect members’ guide

10 things your employer can do to support workers with menopause

Trades Union Congress guidance

Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians guidance

Quotes

“The more comfortable the environment, the better. Fans, fresh air and access to cold drinking water do help. Complete lack of understanding from other people makes the situation even more awkward. It is NOT an illness, it’s part of the ageing process.”

“I have been having great difficulty for about two years now – sleeping for no more than a couple of hours, waking up and going back to bed to sleep for another couple. This is repeated throughout the night. I then “wake” via the alarm and feel worse than when I went to bed. I have no energy.”

“I am a zombie, I am exhausted, unfocused, my eyes are so dry they sting constantly and my hair is thinning. I can have a period sometimes every two weeks and they can be really heavy and painful. I just feel broken. I wake with panic attacks in the night (heart palpitations and adrenaline rush feeling), suffer with depression and anxiety and really just think I am useless both at home and at work. It is grim. I am a shadow of my former self.”

“Stress, anxiety, lack of confidence, feeling I am not pulling my weight. Feeling I can’t share these feelings with people at work as they will not understand. Being boiling hot when my younger colleagues are cold. Feeling like I am having a mental breakdown, but I can’t have any time off as menopause is ‘normal’, so I just carry on.”