The University of Exeter has a longstanding commitment to promoting equality, diversity and inclusivity. We believe that the diversity of our community is an essential part of our values and enriches employment, research, studying and learning experiences. We are continuing to take active steps to develop an environment which promotes equality of opportunity and values diversity for staff and students. We have developed a Positive Work Environment agenda to ensure that the health and wellbeing of all staff is supported so that the University continues to be a great place to work.
The purpose of this guidance is to ensure a greater understanding and clarity about what menopause is, what support is available at the University and how this support can be used by staff and managers. The principles are:
to raise awareness and foster an environment of understanding and open, respectful and honest dialogue that ensures staff are comfortable in having conversations about menopause.
- to provide appropriate information on our web pages about menopause to all staff.
- to ensure appropriate information is available to all managers so that they can support staff at work.
- to consider reasonable adjustments where appropriate.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is part of the natural ageing process. It refers to the time when menstruation has ceased for 12 consecutive months. It is triggered by lower levels of oestrogen, which decrease naturally between the ages of 45 and 55. Whilst it is a natural process, it can brought on earlier by certain things e.g. chemotherapy, hysterectomy.
Helpful definitions of the stages of menopause:
Menopause is when a person stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. Menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years old, with the average age being 51, however, it can be earlier or later than this due to surgery, illness or other reasons.
Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause when a person may experience changes, such as irregular periods or other menopausal symptoms. This can be years before menopause.
Post menopause is the time after menopause has occurred, starting when a person has not had a period for twelve consecutive months.
Symptoms of the menopause
Symptoms can manifest both physically and psychologically including, hot flushes, cold sweats, poor concentration, mood swings, headaches, panic attacks, heavy/light periods, anxiety, loss of confidence, difficulty sleeping and joint stiffness, aches and pains. Symptoms can last for up 14 years but on average most symptoms last 4 years.
It is important to note that not every person will notice every symptom, or even need help or support. Symptoms can also vary in severity. Some people will choose to use HRT (hormone replacement therapy), others will choose to alleviate symptoms with alternative therapies or diet and exercise.
We recommend that you speak with your GP in the first instance to ensure that you are being medically supported. There is good advice on when and how you can discuss any symptoms you are feeling with your GP on henpicked.net in the menopause advice sheet. It may also be helpful to read the NICE guidelines for people experiencing the menopause. These guidelines summarise what treatment and support is available for you through the NHS. For information on how to take time off for doctors’ appointments please see the managing absence code of practice.
The best way to receive support at work is to speak to your manager and explain that you would like a meeting to discuss your work and wellbeing. It is helpful to mention in advance that it is specifically the menopausal symptoms and affects, if you can. This will allow your manager time to have read this guidance and seek any additional help they may need. Below is some advice as to what you can do to prepare for the meeting and what to discuss in the meeting. For further information henpicked.net has some good advice.
- Book a time with your manger. This should be somewhere private.
- It may be helpful to keep a diary of your symptoms and the effect they are having so that you can be specific in the meeting.
- It may be helpful to aim to explain your situation clearly e.g. if you are experiencing hot flushes, what affect are they having on you.
- Consider ideas which may help you such as practical and reasonable adjustments so that you are ready to suggest these to your manager - e.g. if hot flushes are an issue can you move nearer a window or get a desk fan. Try to be flexible and put forward different ideas/solutions. It might also be worthwhile talking about the duration of any adjustments. If you are seeking medical help, it may be that some of your symptoms will be alleviated with medication.
- Ask for regular reviews to be set up so that you and your manager can discuss your health and wellbeing on a regular basis.
Guidance from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians suggests the following:
- Find out more about the menopause from available sources of information
- See your GP for advice on available treatment options.
- Discuss your practical needs with your line manager, HR or another manager you feel comfortable talking to.
- Use technology where this is helpful, e.g. for reminders or note taking.
- If those you work with are supportive, this can make a big difference. Talk about your symptoms and solutions with colleagues, particularly those who are also experiencing symptoms, use humour to deflect embarrassment, and work out your preferred coping strategies and working patterns.
- Avoid hot flush triggers (such as hot food and drinks) especially before presentations or meetings.
- Consider relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and other potentially helpful techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, as these can help reduce the impact of symptoms.
- Consider lifestyle changes such as weight reduction, smoking cessation and exercise.
Support from OH
If you think that adjustments to your work may be necessary, ask your manager to refer you to the occupational health service to discuss support and possible work adjustments. If you cannot discuss with your manager you can speak to occupational health over the phone to seek initial advice, obviously without your manager’s knowledge some of the support might be limited.
When staff are referred to occupational health they will carry out a holistic assessment as to whether or not menopause may be contributing to symptoms or impacting on their wellbeing, Advice and guidance will be given in line with up-to-date research. They will provide support and advice to HR and line managers in determining and agreeing reasonable adjustments, if required. They will signpost to appropriate sources of help and advice where appropriate.
Support from the Employee Assistance Programme (Spectrum Life)
Staff can seek advice and support from Spectrum Life 24/7. They also provide on-line information on aspects such as low mood, self-esteem, relaxation.
Other support for Staff
The University already has a wealth of support available. There is the wellbeing assessment tool and wellbeing maps for all three campuses. The wellbeing maps mark showers on all campuses as well activities to support wellbeing. There is also a staff wellbeing presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which are all regularly updated with events.
Flexible working - It might be relevant to think about how you can adjust your working pattern or times for a temporary basis. Please note that staff in professional service roles may already have access to flexi-time which can be used.
Buying additional annual leave – if you think having some more leave might help support you during this time.
Career break – would it help to consider a break from the work environment for a period of time? If so have a look at the career break scheme.
Learn smart has lots of online advice for staff and managers including sleep top tips, how to have difficult conversations, coaching conversations, wellbeing checklists and much more.
At the last Menopause Cafe several books were recommended by Louise and other participants. You may wish to have a look at these. if you have any others you would like us to add please share them with us at the next cafe.
The Happiness Curve – Jonathan Rauch
Bolder – Carl Honore
The Age Well Project -https://agewellproject.com/about/
Managing Hot flushes – Myra Hunter and Melanie Smith
Menopause – Deborah Garlick
Menopause: All you need to know in one concise manual - Dr Louise Newson
We also discussed mindfulness resources;
The Oxford MBCT App – a mindfulness app available for IOS
Mindful meditation sessions on Mondays – University Staff wellbeing