Navigating the Menopause Maze in the workplace

The subject of menopause today is where mental health was more than a decade ago and it needs to be better understood, says Nicola Wolfe, founder of Menopause Maze.

Menopause Maze was set up by Kilkenny-based Nicola Wolfe to tackle a very real issue for women’s health, a subject that is too often ignored or experienced in silence.

She started Menopause Maze to help women to navigate the perimenopause and menopause phase of their lives through online group modules and 1:1 coaching.

“As well as adult women needing education and appropriate support, their partners and employers/HR also need education as they are often completely ‘in the dark’ as to what is happening their loved one/colleague/employee”

But crucially, she believes the subject – a natural development in every woman’s life by middle age – is ignored by society at large but, in particular, in the workplace where employers ought to have a duty of care to their staff.

Duty of care

“The problem is a lack of education and resources for women regarding perimenopause and menopause and this places women at a disadvantage in terms of advocating for their health,” says Wolfe.

“Changing hormone levels result in increased health risks for women as we are living much longer than previously.

“All women will experience menopause. Some will do so earlier than the natural age of 51, as a result of medical conditions/surgery/treatments etc., but fundamentally all women who reach mid-life become menopausal. Therefore, this product has relevance to 50pc of the adult population.

“As well as adult women needing education and appropriate support, their partners and employers/HR also need education as they are often completely ‘in the dark’ as to what is happening their loved one/colleague/employee.”

Menopause in the workplace

Wolfe believes that menopause needs to be embraced as a vital human resources issue – just as relevant as mental health – and understood by all staff and management in organisations. Responsible employers, she urged, need to do all they can to support employees through this challenging time.

She pointed out that there have been legal actions in the UK where women have secured judgments from employment tribunals on the grounds of gender and disability discrimination because no reasonable adjustments were made to accommodate them.

“I don’t really feel that menopause is any less important than any other issue that an employee would be bringing to work. We are all individual, autonomous, people who hope for respect and our dignity to be upheld at work. That applies to everyone. It’s not good enough that menopause is just understood to be ‘women’s issues’.  

“There needs to be a culture where all employees, women in particular, feel that menopause and perimenopause symptoms can be discussed openly and that there isn’t a shroud of secrecy, that it isn’t taboo.

“It’s about understanding the fundamentals of perimenopause and menopause and what’s actually happening. It’s not just a phase where a woman’s periods stop. It’s much broader. Decreasing oestrogen levels affect every single cell in a woman’s body. This impacts on her ability to sleep, it causes hot flushes, causes night sweats and causes symptoms of anxiety and depression and brain fog. There’s a plethora of symptoms.

“Therefore, there needs to be a compassionate workplace environment where a woman can discuss her concerns openly with her line or HR managers and not be concerned about being ridiculed or dismissed. There needs to be a policy in place that outlines what an organisation will do for an employee experiencing menopause, such as allowing for flexible hours.

“The reality is women lose a lot of confidence during this time and experience a lot of stress and anxiety. There is no doubt that things are moving and changing regarding this, but we just need to speed it up,” says Wolfe.

Menopause-friendly culture

Wolfe has devised education and coaching support for women (1:1 and in groups) and bespoke training for employers/HR teams and staff teams. She also provides support with policy development for HR /employers to assist with the development of a menopause-friendly culture in the service.

“I founded this business because of my own experience of perimenopause. My background is nursing, and I would have given menopause zero consideration but would have presumed I knew what it involved. I didn’t!

“This led me to be aware of how little education, and all other women, receive regarding menopause and it’s health implications. I’m already self-employed and have gained huge satisfaction from being self-employed for over 20 years. I am a director with my husband in our health and social care consultancy and specialist training company Wolfe Improve Ltd.”

As a business founder, her advice to fellow founders is to be adaptable. “Be flexible. Br brave. If you believe in something and if you’re passionate about go for it. Try to silence the imposter syndrome voice in your head and push on.

“Build relationships and assume positive intent. The power of networks (such as the Women Inspire Network) can’t be underestimated, and it is worth investing time in the development of relationships and networks.”

Main image: Nicola Wolfe, founder of Menopause Maze

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 1 July 2021