Guarding against depression in the workplace: why HR needs to be more on top of menopause.
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
I recently came across an excellent article by Emma Jacobs in the Financial Times UK about menopause, a difficult phase in a woman’s life that is generally not picked up by employers.
The absence of HR processes for this are potentially damaging for the individual going through menopause and also the culture of the organisation. The latter because, in some cases, it shows that the organisation has not the capacity to think in detail about how to protect its employees and be appropriately sensitive to key external issues that impact upon them.
There is a consensus now in business schools that the strength of a business is its culture. An excellent HBR article on this can be found here. Good work culture, or environment, is built up of not just of creating enthusiasm for work. More fundamental to good culture is how the workplace treats its staff as human beings. This is important both top and down, from boss to junior employee, and also horizontally – as between employees in each team.
As we evolve as a society we will produce businesses that are more ethical and more sensitive to the needs of individuals. We will realise that this will strengthen the organisation, not weaken it. We are already seeing discourse in management theory encouraging a move away from parochial and stressful cultures that encourage harmful competition amongst workers. This results in people ignoring other people’s feelings. This causes not just reduced productivity for the victim but also negative mental health through isolation or marginalisation. Unbridled and non-strategic competition marginalises people with different abilities and different motivations, who otherwise have a lot to contribute to their team and organisational productivity. This is no more so the case than with a person going through a difficult menopause. Unfortunately, menopause leads to isolation, frustration and, more often than not, depression. Negative emotions can also detrimentally impact on other members of that person’s team. It’s still an issue that we have not developed the emotional capacity to talk transparently about in the workplace.
Depression in the workplace is a big problem. It causes a lack of productivity, and it can rub off on team players reducing the organisations efficiency in a core area, sometimes in a vital area of its operations. Women are at a far higher risk of depression in the work place than men.
One of the unspoken areas of depression is menopause. This is generally a very difficult time for women, when they are potentially at the peak of their careers. Many of them at this period of their lives would have worked very hard to get to where they are.
If you would like to learn more about menopause (which you should), there is an excellent Ted Talk by Professor Lisa Mosconi on why menopause has a significant impact on women in relation to their mental health. This can be watched by clicking here. The key take away here is about the difference between the genders in reacting to the decline in hormones, and how that decline occurs. Our cognitive capacity in our brains is wired to our hormonal levels. These in turn affect brain performance and mood. A drop in the hormone oestrogen that comes drastically with menopause (as opposed to the gradual decline of testosterone in men) can significantly impair mental well-being and, in turn, performance. No one wants to turn up to work sluggish or depressed, particularly those who are highly motivated at the peak of their careers. Thwarted potential compounds frustration.
The reason why it is so important to address the issue is the significant opportunity cost not only on women who are going through menopause, but also because they are usually in positions of responsibilities for others at this stage in their careers. This makes it difficult for them to achieve their potential as leaders. As a global society we desperately need leaders, and not marginalise women in leadership positions.
A woman’s body goes through a lot of changes during menopause. There are extreme shifts in hormones that result in key areas of the brain that control mood and also control itself to change. This results in fear and anxiety, and being isolated and not being able to talk about it will increase pressure at work by concerns of one’s performance. This clearly needs internal support. HR processes should have internal guidelines and countermeasures, such as counselling availability to talk about these issues. More importantly conscientious and sensitive channels of communication should be created to allow the subject to be talked about in a trusting and caring manner for those adversely affected.
The author’s view is that not talking about female issues, through politeness or embarrassment, is one of the reasons why marginalisation of women occurs in the workplace. Lines of communication are key to develop and evolve trust. These increase an individual’s contribution to the workplace. This will also have a cultural impact on the society outside of the workplace to treat menopause with the sensitivity it often needs but doesn’t get.
There are organisations in the UK that assist, such as the menopause charity. Though we have not reviewed the effectiveness and methods of those.
Discussing these issues and then dealing with them allows us to build a better world through work and business.
Dr Pandya’s video on why gender discrimination in the workplace still exists is here.
Authored by Dr Abhijit Pandya
CEO and Founder
Pandya Arbitration Global