During the period of lockdown, HR departments will have been overrun with scenario planning. Most companies will be affected in some way by COVID19. There will be much talk about streamlining for survival, not just of the pandemic but of the predicted recession to follow. Many will need to make some difficult decisions about who to retain and who not. FiFO, LiFO or the alternative version of FiFO (Fit in or….)? Or, rather, in most cases a balanced consideration of need, talent and potential.
Have you been a bloody difficult woman? This is a statement made (in)famous by Theresa May. She said it with pride. However, it is a term frequently flung at women who are of Menopausal and post-Menopausal age. It is the tail end of what were once a range of derogatory statements made towards women. The Menopause can make you more difficult to manage than a bag of snakes. That is not through any conscious choice of your own. You are not being “disruptive” because it’s a cool thing to be, you just can’t help it. The symptoms associated with the drop in your hormones can and do change the way you behave and more importantly feel about yourself and your ability to do things, driving a further change in behaviour.
If all this was happening in the early months of this year and you have been given the label of difficult, unreliable or another completely unjust name – and yet have not declared what was going on for you – it’s time to get out ahead of the rumour and name calling and book a web call with your manager.
Of course, you may not have known what was going on, or have just started getting some support or help and realised how bad things had got. We have all had that retrospective cold sweat moment. Which makes a change from a hot flush moment, albeit not a pleasant one. Self-loathing is not constructive here. Or ever. Action is.
As an Employee
If you are Menopausal and have found that your symptoms have impacted your ability to do your work in the way you used to, or that your behaviour has been affected, now is a time to be upfront with yourself about how this might influence those around you who might be looking to slim the organisation down. Whilst this is not intended to add more stress at a time when you need it least, and apologies if I have, it is most definitely a prod to get you to think about discussing this phase of life with your manager or HR.
Surely it is easier all round if you keep it to yourself, especially now that you are at home, right? Wrong. Your silence creates a barrier between you and your manager. They will hold their perception of the way you used to be when in the office. Frozen in time. This includes their expectations regarding your performance at work.
You may have had an uncharacteristic meltdown or burst into tears just before the office closed down, which considering the stress surrounding commuting (while no-one was sure whether it was safe or not) is not surprising. Or perhaps you had backed out of a presentation or meeting struck dumb or unable to speak in front of the assembled group. Either way if this was not your normal professional self, people will be questioning what caused this change. Or worse they will wonder whether you will return to so called “normal”. (Please, no “new normal”). Any or all of this is not welcome during a period such as this, when decisions are being made.
All this means you have some legal protection during your Menopause – but only if you declare it to your employer. It’s not a guessing game, and telepathy is tough. If you do not, they are left with assumption and judgement to fill in the gaps. Likewise, with your peers and your team, a lack of explanation invites rumour. Let’s face it, rumour is rarely positive. Now is the time to get your big girl pants on and be the adult on the zoom.
Whether you are going to be asking for adjustments or empathy, you need to be clear about what your symptoms are and how they show up. Next you need to know if your organisation has a Menopause policy or guidelines. If they don’t and many are yet to, do they have policies for other things like mental health? Whilst no one is suggesting you have such an issue, this policy will sit within the same sphere as Menopause.
Always, always, always make notes of what is said once you finish your call. I know in some working environments you are unable to record meetings. If this is not the case recording zoom meetings is easy. Request that this is done and that they send you a copy of the recording that day. This step may seem scary or extreme, but it is always better to be over cautious than to be caught out.
Lastly don’t be put off or belittled. Your employer has a duty of care once they are aware that you are Menopausal. They may require you to get confirmation from your GP which should not be complex to do, even under the current conditions.
The last thing to remember is that all women, will have a Menopause. It really is that guaranteed. This is not something employers can deny or turn away from. Even if it’s another woman saying it.
For the Managers
The average age that women will experience Menopausal symptoms is between 45 and 55. Their symptoms can and do change and for some the experience will be a non-event. However, for the majority they will need some support to assist them to stay on track with their career and remain the valued member of the organisation that they are.
If a female member of your team has asked for a conversation, and you have noticed a distinct change in their mood, behaviour or productivity, be grateful that they value their career enough to be proactive. It could be related to either cause or effect. But the sentiment is the same. It is for you to recognise the courage and work that will go into preparing for the call. Be empathetic and supportive.
Whilst there is a limited legal precedent for Menopause the potential costs to your own and your organisation’s reputation, should it get that far, are considerable.
Even during a recession, organisations wish to be known as the employer of choice. They still wish to attract and retain the best people. Wellbeing is at the heart of this. Menopause is at the heart of wellbeing. Accept the call request, do your research and get your policies at the ready. You know it’s the right thing to do.
This time is stressful for both employees and managers. Decisions are being made over people’s futures, often under extreme pressure. It’s tempting to retreat into system, to think of people as numbers so as not to get into the emotion of this situation. They are not, you are not. Redundancy is extremely difficult – to decide upon, to be subject to. Menopause adds a whole additional layer of difficulty and uncertainty. It is vital that nothing is left unsaid. The whole process needs to ensure people are treated with respect and empathy, recognising that life is complex. We may then all surface from this with our self-respect intact.