Lancashire County Council has taken a range of steps to improve the way it supports menopause in the workplace. Workshops, peer support groups and an online chat channel have been provided, creating a much more friendly and supportive environment for staff going through the transition.
Review highlighted need for change
In early 2021 Lancashire County Council Chief Executive Angie Ridgwell highlighted menopause transition as a key priority for the council. It led to the health equity, welfare and partnerships team, part of the public health department, running a review of the way menopause was dealt with in the workplace.
The team looked at best practice in other organisations, including the police and Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust, and also asked its staff and managers to complete a questionnaire.
Employee Support Officer Helen Wilkinson, who has helped coordinate the work, said: “Government research shows menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace and this is reflected in our own workforce. Nearly three-quarters of staff are female with one in five aged between 46 and 55, the typical age range of menopause transition.
“We know that experiences vary – some women can sail through with minimal symptoms and others can really struggle. But the questionnaire did raise some concerns about the support in place.
“We found that many did not know what help was available and, coupled with not wanting to approach their manager, this only went to reinforce the belief that the menopause was something that was a taboo and hidden-from-view topic.”
The review highlighted three main steps that were needed:
- Raising awareness and breaking down barriers so talking about menopause became normalised
- Improving access to information and guidance about what support is available
- Creating a peer support group
From workshops to chat channels
Within months, the team had started rolling out a range of new initiatives with the support of Henpicked, a menopause consultancy, which has now started training five employee support workers to become menopause champions.
It was kick-started by a blog written by one of the council’s heads of service about her experiences of going through the menopause and how it affected her at work.
“That really set the ball rolling,” said Ms Wilkinson. “To have a senior manager talking so openly just pulled down the barriers straight-away. Suddenly it was a topic that could be discussed openly.”
Then, in the autumn, monthly workshops were launched where staff and managers were able to discuss and explore the symptoms of menopause, its effect on women going through the transition and where to go to for support. The workshops have proved incredibly popular and are regularly fully-booked with over 30 people attending each month.
A guide to the menopause was also developed for the council intranet and hosted on the My Wellbeing pages, while a peer support group called ‘Meno-Pause for Thought’ and peer support chat channel have also been launched.
Ms Wilkinson said: “The channel is a safe confidential forum for staff to discuss the menopause and support each other. We have around 200 people regularly taking part. The employee support workers will sometimes monitor the chat and signpost to further information when needed.
“Together the initiatives are all helping create a much more open environment where people feel comfortable discussing the menopause. We have also dealt with issues like HRT and we are doing one on diet during the menopause soon. But it’s not just women taking part, men are also being encouraged to get involved and they are. In fact, we are planning to run a session on menopause from a man’s perspective.
“We have been blown away by the interest and appetite for information and discussion – it just goes to show that the menopause is relevant for everyone.”
‘Measures have transformed attitudes’
Feedback from staff has been incredibly positive. One woman said it has transformed her working life. “This has previously been a taboo subject, but it’s an absolutely normal stage of a woman’s life. I now make a joke of my brain fog when I can’t think of words I’m looking for or when I’m having a ‘tropical moment’, but for some it’s difficult to talk about and this support is brilliant.”
While another added: “Menopause affects women in so many ways – it’s capricious and unpredictable and everyone’s experience in unique. It’s literally life-changing and this recognition in the workplace is invaluable.”
A full evaluation of the programme of work is planned for October, but already Lancashire is looking to support others to do similar work. The council is part of the Flourish Forum, which incorporates many of the anchor organisations across Lancashire and South Cumbria.
Ms Wilkinson said: “We’re a large employer locally – we have over 13,000 staff – so through our learning we can have a positive impact and can use this to shape, share and influence other local authorities and businesses. We want to help other local councils in the North West and are already working with colleagues from other local authorities, sharing our experiences and good practice.”
Helen Wilkinson, Employee Support Officer, Lancashire County Council: [email protected]