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Why ageing must be celebrated to nourish employee wellbeing

 

Make menopause mainstream: Why ageing must be celebrated to nourish employee wellbeing

 

Celebrities voicing the menopause

Naomi Watts recently launched her new business Stripes, a menopausal beauty brand, that promises ‘support, solutions and space’ for women entering this life stage. From supplements that maintain healthy vaginal microbiome to hydrating moisturisers for (peri)menopausal skin, Naomi has us our wellbeing covered.

Along with menopausal initiatives, high profile discussions are also rising in prominence, such as Davina McCall’s 2021 documentary ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ and Michelle Obama’s 2020 podcast episode with a gynaecologist on ageing and women’s health.

Why is bringing the menopause into the public sphere such a crucial step? Quite simply, it reduces the shame that many menopausal women experience, particularly at work.

Such conversations educate people about the various struggles associated with the menopause, and therefore have the power to improve workplace wellbeing for millions of women. Indeed, the link between menopausal stigma and a lack of education was highlighted in a report by UK Parliament published this year.

Damaging impact of menopausal stigma

What are the consequences of the discrimination women face during the menopause? While women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing group in the workforce, many consider leaving work due to one of three menopause-related reasons:

  • Problematic symptoms: 81% have difficulty sleeping, 75% struggle with memory and/or concentration, 73% experience hot flushes and 69% report anxiety and depression.
  • Lack of support: Attitudes of colleagues and managers can significantly impact women’s ability to seek help and remain in employment. Unfortunately, only a third of respondents told anyone at work due to concerns over privacy and reactions.
  • Loss of income or reduced work: BUPA found 900,000 women left their job due to their symptoms.

We labelled the menopause as the final taboo in the workplace a few years ago in the hope that the situation would progress. But sadly, it seems that this vital aspect of employee wellbeing continues to be overlooked.

Resisting the tyranny of ageing with wisdom

What underpins this stigma exactly? To understand the roots of this discrimination, we can look to perceptions of what the menopause represents: ageing.

Writer Sarah Manguso published a popular article in the New Yorker in 2019 about the tyranny women face as they age. She observes that rites of passage (menstruation, pregnancy, birth, menopause) are often represented from the outsider’s perspective. Take pregnancy, this is regarded as proof a woman can bear a child. While this is regarded as positive, the menopause is framed entirely in terms of losses: Fertility, beauty, sexuality, attention-worthiness.

However, what about the gains? We have less need to engage in painstaking, expensive hair removal rituals like waxing and shaving. We’re free to wear white clothes without the fear of a leak. Pregnancies worries disappear, and there are no more supermarket dashes to buy tampons or pads.

But far more than this, with age comes wisdom. And this is why Victor Frankl says older people should, in fact, be the envy of younger generations. It is true that our youth holds boundless opportunities and possibilities, which naturally decline as we age. However, older people have far more than this:

“Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.”

There is no denying the menopause is exceptionally challenging. However, adequately supporting workplace wellbeing and beyond depends on deconstructing the stigma. To do this, we must raise awareness about the inherent value of ageing. Therefore, organisations must prioritise educating employees so everyone recognises that the menopause is hot flushes, rage and brain fog, but also a symbol of life experience that must be celebrated.

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Date: 27th October 2022