To mark World Menopause Month (October), Therese Procter explores how we coach for menopause and andropause in the workplace
With life expectancy increasing, for the first time in history those aged over 50 will make up more than a third of the global workforce (https://bit.ly/3gINTIy). Coaching leaders and other staff to understand and support the changes that come in this midlife period will prove pivotal for organisations looking to optimise opportunity and maximise performance.
Menopause is making its way into the social narrative – the number of UK employment tribunals concerning it have quadrupled since 2018 (https://bit.ly/3D8d0fB), and this figure is likely to continue rising. However, there’s still a great deal of taboo surrounding the topic, with many employers not knowing how to start a conversation about it, as well as accommodate for it in the workplace due to perceived sensitivity paired with a lack of understanding. What’s more, almost no one – employers nor society – is talking about the fact that men can suffer from up to 17 of the 30 symptoms of menopause (known as andropause).
There are a number of insights, shifts in mindset and practical steps a coach can take to support clients, ensuring that those undergoing menopause or andropause understand and manage these natural changes to sustain a long and healthy career without limitations.
Make it work
Know your stuff Establishing a confidential, trust-based relationship between coach and client is of course essential, and arguably even more so when coaching for menopause and andropause. Exploring the condition requires touching on issues that can be deemed personal, embarrassing and uncomfortable to discuss, so your client needs to feel safe to open up on how they’re being impacted.
It helps if the coach has an up-to-date and in-depth understanding of the territory. A modern coach will equip themselves through personal study to identify the signs of menopause or andropause and know how to support their client through it. Having this understanding will help solidify the trust.
One example is ‘brain fog’ and memory loss, which can be a symptom of both menopause and andropause. It can be terrifying for your client – they may, for example, think they have early onset dementia. With time, these symptoms tend to pass. Helping your client navigate a period marked by a reduction in mental capacities can be very fruitful. How do they manage their reputation? What changes can they make to allow them to align their work with what they are currently capable of, and to manage their energy better?
Not managing the mindset Symptoms of menopause and andropause can creep up on midlife workers. Those who find themselves acting out of character or feeling sluggish or more emotional than usual, may be unaware that this is due to natural changes.
A common trait is to ignore or ‘cover up’ what they’re going through. But ignoring or keeping these symptoms a secret can result in a loss of confidence or personal productivity.
With regard to andropause, men can also undergo behavioural changes due to sudden imbalances in testosterone, but due to the lack of awareness surrounding this topic it can easily be dismissed as stress.
When coaching for the ‘-pauses’, challenge the idea that accepting you’re going through these changes means you’re somehow weaker or less able. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Make it work
Reframe Helping reframe a client’s mindset from menopause and andropause being the ‘loss of something’ to being a natural part of the human life cycle is vital, normalising conversations around the topic.
It’s about helping clients recognise and accept this change and supporting them to have open conversations, not only about what they and their organisation can do to alleviate symptoms, but also to embrace the transition. Maybe it is bringing gifts as well as challenges? What might they be learning about themselves? Shifting their perspective and those of colleagues and leaders will help the ‘-pauses’ be seen as a natural phase that, if properly understood and catered for at work, will not hold them or the organisation back.
‘Othering’ those in the menopause or andropause A lack of understanding or curiosity about the menopause or andropause can lead to those in mid-life transitions being ‘othered’.
Make it work
Create the right environment Developing a working culture and environment that’s open and honest, and makes people feel comfortable about sharing and seeking help, is key. Building a community that’s willing and able to support the needs of midlife workers experiencing these changes will help foster an inclusion mindset. The open conversations mentioned above will help.
Whether you’re coaching leaders, or individuals experiencing the ‘-pauses’, or both, there are many areas of the workplace that can be improved to help people undergoing menopause and andropause to continue to prosper.
Coaching a company on how to educate their staff on menopause and andropause helps make them aware of what others around them may be going through. Normalising this as a topic of conversation will solidify a more positive mindset overall, as well as a positive workplace culture. Moreover, suggesting the implementation of flexible working schedules to a client will help combat symptoms of the ‘-pauses’. For example, if you’re coaching for an organisation that offers shift work, help them explore how they might improve communication and find which shift patterns work best for that member of staff’s body clock.
A company’s physical work environment is also a very important point to explore, as it should have lots of ventilation and efficient temperature control in the office to help aid physical symptoms such as hot flushes. Supporting clients to push for the relaxation of clothing policies for those going through menopause or andropause can help increase comfort in the workplace.
Lastly, encourage your client to seek and accept feedback. The experience of menopause and andropause is unique to the individual, and the best way for a business to ensure successful implementation is to simply ask what works for each person.
Ensuring that the client is consistently communicating with midlife staff will highlight their continuous and genuine effort to help their employees.
An educated and sensitive approach is always recommended when coaching for something like menopause and andropause. However, there’s plenty that can be done to normalise conversations and ensure appropriate awareness in the workplace, as well as begin to embed such changes as part of an inclusive mindset in their workplace culture. Why lose midlife workers’ knowledge and talent through a lack of understanding of this most natural of changes?
About the author
- Therese Procter is Partner at Orgshakers