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    How Behavioral Science Can Drive a Menopause-friendly Workplace

    Research shows nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work, with many in senior leadership positions.
    However, despite the evident disruption of the transition to those at the peak of their careers – and the resulting wider workplace impact – menopause remains a largely unspoken and unsupported taboo.
    That’s why Nuffield Health is pioneering a change to the way we approach menopause in the workplace, using behavioral science and health psychology to promote inclusive and supportive environments.
    The research on menopause in the workplace
    The menopause transition is experienced differently by each individual, making it only more concerning that so many are having to manage their symptoms in silence. Understanding experiences is key in providing relevant interventions.
    For example, research shows one in four women experience serious menopause symptoms. This may include feelings of depression and anxiety and difficulty sleeping. 60 percent of women also report poor concentration and forgetfulness during the menopausal transition.
    As a result, daily tasks can become a challenge. Individuals may have difficulty focusing when reading text, lose confidence when speaking with – or in front of – others, and even miss deadlines due to impaired memory.
    Even for those who don’t experience the psychological symptoms of menopause, the workplace can still be a place to avoid. Busy and stuffy environments can exacerbate physical symptoms such as hot flushes and headaches.
    The role of behavioral science
    Research tells us that employees don’t need the workplace to ‘manage their menopause’ or their symptoms. What they want is an environment that recognizes their experiences and provides the right support to enable them to thrive and reach their full potential.
    This understanding, combined with a behavioral science approach, helps businesses do more than just understand menopausal issues – driving tangible change and creating an inclusive and supportive environment.
    Inviting external experts to run seminars or workshops, as well as running internal training sessions, helps employees in the workplace adopt helpful and positive behavioral changes and contribute to building a ‘menopause friendly’ workplace.
    This includes both menopausal individuals, who feel more confident in speaking about their difficulties, as well as non-menopausal individuals who better understand the challenges and are able to adopt more helpful behaviors to support colleagues.
    Keeping these sessions short and regular boosts engagement and buy-in, too. Busy employees find 15–45-minute sessions accessible and are more likely to retain information, while addressing these topics every few months means the organization is better able to support new starters, too.
    Evaluating the impact of these sessions by measuring attendee knowledge and attitudes helps businesses better understand how menopause is understood and experienced in the workplace, helping to plan future strategies for building healthy and inclusive work environments.
    Practical solutions for businesses
    Although menopause is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex, and disability discrimination, conscientious businesses should have a menopause policy that goes beyond legal tick boxes. Appropriate policies should cover the adjustments available to those experiencing menopause and be communicated to the whole team. There is no point in having a policy if nobody knows it exists.
    While creating a comprehensive menopause policy, businesses must also recognize individuals who are experiencing difficulties and in need of support. Here, the question becomes ‘what can I do to support you today?’. Whilst employers may not currently be able to provide a full suite of interventions, everyone is able to initiate helpful conversations that recognize individual experiences and identify any support needed.
    Practical solutions for managers
    Around 4 in 10 women who have gone through menopause felt they were unable to talk about it at work, especially with their manager.
    Team leaders are often seen as the first line of support for struggling employees. So, it’s important they are equipped to hold conversations around menopausal challenges and are confident in signposting team members towards additional support. This may include understanding the reasonable adjustments the business can offer, such as flexible and remote working, shift changes, adequate breaks, rest areas, and access to toilets and washing facilities.
    Similarly, upskilling emotional wellbeing champions to provide support to those experiencing menopause gives individuals alternative points of contact where meaningful and supportive conversations can take place.
    Practical solutions for peers
    Everyone has a role to play in easing the negative impact of menopause in the workplace and colleagues can play their part by engaging in any available training and educational sessions. Simply being aware of others’ experiences can reduce stigma and make it less daunting for individuals to speak about their experiences or seek help.
    Employees should also be aware of the impact of their language. By simply moving away from a medicalized vocabulary when discussing menopause – towards a more relatable model of distress, which is something we can all relate to – we can reduce the stigma around the transition.
    Similarly, hosting Menopause Exchange Forums – with both men and women – encourages informal conversations around symptoms, struggles, and the sharing of tips and coping mechanisms. These can then be supplemented with informal messenger chats where people can share their experiences day to day and provide each other with mutual support.
    Practical solutions for individuals
    The first step for individuals is to talk. Speaking with colleagues, employers, and health specialists helps menopausal employees feel they are not alone and that their experiences are common and valid.
    Menopausal women commonly attribute their symptoms to anything other than menopause, due to ongoing stigma and feelings of shame or embarrassment. However, by communicating their experiences they will be able to find the support they need from those around them. This may include support in managing their workload to compensate for memory loss or even access to more formal support offered by the business.
    For example, emotional wellbeing support such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or EAPs provides access to specialists who can help individuals understand and manage their psychological symptoms. This in turn can also help alleviate physical symptoms, as when stress is well managed, cortisol levels drop which helps reduce physical difficulties associated with menopause transition.
    By Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health.
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    Leading by Example to Enhance Employee Physical and Emotional Wellbeing

    ‘Putting your own life jacket on, before helping others’
    Research shows employees are putting in an average of 9 hours of unpaid overtime per week.
    Does this surprise you? Probably not.
    Overwork culture – with long hours and constant exhaustion- is still seen as a badge of honor within the workplace. This is despite the WHO revealing the negative long-term implications of such behavior, including exhaustion, burnout, and a possible deterioration in mental health.
    So, why do many of us managing others still lead in this counterproductive way?
    Badge of Honor
    There are lots of practical factors connected to overworking and taking on as many tasks as possible that are thrown our way. But socio-economic factors associated with ‘overworking’ are also deeply ingrained in our workplace culture.
    Many of us simply work long hours to keep our jobs, pay off debt, or so we’re first in line for that long-awaited promotion.
    For those that adopt a culture of long, intense work hours, there’s often a performative element involved. Overwork is often seen as a peculiar sign of success.
    Whether this is defined by a fancy job title or lifestyle, or even by demonstrating actual exhaustion, the ‘kudos’ associated with overworking hold firm.
    Overworking also depends on the industry type and role you are in. For example, people in jobs geared towards helping others, like line managers, tend to work longer hours that can result in physical and emotional exhaustion.
    Enter the global pandemic
    The pandemic has intensified negative work behaviors across all work hierarchies, with COVID culture impacting employees, line managers, and senior leaders.
    While working from home has its perks, it also means there is technology around us continually throughout the day. There is not a clear separation between ‘being at work’ in a working environment and ‘being at home’.
    Financial volatility also rose during this timeframe, which drives many companies to act with a ‘we need to get more done for less’ attitude.
    Worryingly, mass redundancies and furlough schemes meant higher workloads, stricter deadlines, and increased concerns about job security. As a result, many managers took on a lot of this extra strain to cover the workloads of newly missing team members.
    Making yourself accountable
    Overworking is usually a top-down issue. It can only be tackled by a fundamental shift in management behavior. One of the big worries is many individuals in leadership positions are persuaded there’s no problem with it.
    However, managers should acknowledge the risk of burn-out and a decline in mental and physical health if they continue to work in this way.
    Furthermore, they are modeling unhealthy behaviors to their teams, which could have far-reaching adverse side effects. As more employees follow your example, the more likely it is that physical and mental health issues spread to become a company-wide epidemic.
    What’s more, it’s not helping companies either. Employees who are feeling an imbalanced state of well-being are 33 percent more likely to seek a new role elsewhere. In contrast, when an employee experiences positive well-being, this drops to 8 percent.
    Considering such findings, managers need to look at ways to protect their mental health and wellbeing, which can be mirrored to their teams, encouraging others to follow suit.
    Where to start
    Start small. Take those breaks. Make sure you’re taking all your annual leave, and delineate some time where devices are turned off, and you don’t look at them. Everyone needs some clear headspace and others need to know this is a company-wide expectation.
    Get a temperature check on how those around you feel about their workloads by running a few short, informal meetings, either online or in-person, so teams don’t feel further stressed.
    There are unexpected benefits to caring for employees who feel unable to switch off from work.  More employees will be loyal to you, as a manager, if you recognize signs of distress and urge them to take time out.
    Promoting emotional health
    Leading by example is easier to achieve if you feel confident in doing so.
    You need to be aware of the support offerings provided by your workplace. A useful workplace wellbeing strategy blends physical offerings like private health assessments, onsite or subsidized gym memberships with emotional wellbeing support.
    Liaising with HR and ensuring policies contain these perspectives is important. Ask about the possibility of additional training in Mental Health Awareness, to help you notice the signs of possible mental health issues in yourself and others.
    Company offerings like employee assistance programs (EAPs) and cognitive behavioral therapy may be something to discuss as a permanent investment. The presence of an emotional wellbeing therapist in the workplace communicates clearly that conversations about mental health are welcome and expected.
    Digital or virtual therapy solutions can be effective too. Remember, for many people, the notion of sharing a vulnerability or admitting a problem, is a barrier in itself. However, some research suggests psychotherapy conducted online is as effective as face-to-face sessions. During 2020 Nuffield Health therapists delivered 3.7 million minutes of therapy remotely.
    Encouraging physical activity
    Evidence suggests that executives who look after their physical health are more effective leaders. Frequent exercise boosts brain health, improving memory function and the ability to process new information. Exercise can also improve sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression, and anxiety.
    It is important physical health is not overlooked in workplaces where there are high-stress levels and a culture of long work hours.
    The less anxious you are and the better you are at reacting to the circumstances around you, the better you’ll work under pressure.
    Managers should look for gaps in their routines where they could replace something sedentary with exercise.
    Why not try shaking up work routines with activities by organizing ‘walk and talk’ meetings? These can make gatherings more efficient as employees are likely to become energized than lethargic during a brisk walk.
    As restrictions begin to lift, take advantage of any offerings from your company like discounted or free memberships to local gyms, classes, or taking part in a sponsored workplace group in a charity event like a fundraising run. Encourage people to join you, to increase physical activity across your teams.
    For those working from home, continue to offer a level of flexibility for when people exercise. This is so employees feel comfortable exercising when it is convenient for them. It’s important those who began a fitness routine at home do not stop because they feel guilty working out when others are in the office.
    By Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health.
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