This World Menopause Day (18 October), Dr George has called on employers to do more to raise awareness and education of the issue, which is still not openly discussed in many workplace settings.
With recent figures showing that almost half of women have hidden symptoms, or lied about the cause of symptoms due to fear of how it would impact their career*, Dr George believes the number one step every employer can take is improving awareness and education among all staff - men and women, managers, and employees alike.
Dr George explains: “We need to raise awareness and normalise discussions about the menopause at all levels. Women often don’t want to talk about it themselves or be seen to be complaining, but this isn’t the flu or some sort of disease. This is a natural progression in a woman’s life and even just acknowledging that this happens is good, because if it’s not being spoken about, women can feel more vulnerable bringing it up in the workplace.
“Some women can struggle a lot and are unable to work because they find everything overwhelming. You don’t want to lose that talent and experience from the workforce. If you take care of your employees and provide the right help and support, it helps with staff retention and lowers attrition rates.”
Dr George insists that all staff need to be made aware of the impacts and effects of the menopause, and what they should do to support their colleagues in terms of resources and advice.
Cigna Healthcare provides a full suite of menopause tools, resources and medical treatment for employers and employees alike, and Dr George believes that its vital workplaces help raise awareness of the wide-ranging symptoms and side effects of the process – and provide as much help and advice as possible for those who need it.
She said: “For some women, it can be very debilitating, and a lack of awareness can be a huge issue for women going through it. It’s important for them to know what the resources are within the company. Sometimes you can manage your symptoms with exercise, diet, and mindfulness, and other times you should seek medical help, which might lead to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or other treatments. It’s an individual experience and the intervention can be very personalised.”
Dr George explains the awareness also extends to male employees, who will have mothers, sisters or partners either going through the menopause or with experience of it.
“The same thing applies to all our male colleagues. They might not have personally gone through it, but they will have women in their lives who have, and they can also contribute to raising awareness and benefit from education.”
“Menopause can mimic many other diseases.”
Part of the education and awareness required is helping promote greater understanding of some of the lesser-known symptoms and side effects. These can include dizziness and vertigo, heart issues and dental problems.
“Education is vital because the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can be vague and can mimic so many other diseases. You can start blaming everything on other conditions; if there is tenderness in the breasts, you can worry it’s cancer, or you might think you have multiple sclerosis (MS) if you suffer from tingling in hands and feet, or even dementia because you are more forgetful. Many symptoms of the menopause can mimic something more grave so educating women about this issue can help give peace of mind.”
One of the most pressing issues affecting women going through the menopause is mental health.
While many businesses are now taking concrete steps to help support the mental health of their employees, Dr George believes special understanding of the issue as it relates to women during menopause is required – and that needs to come from the top.
Cigna’s 5% Pledge addresses this very point. The initiative was launched by Cigna Healthcare to champion mental health in the workplace and calls for senior leadership teams and CEOs to devote 5% of their annual work hours to foster transformation in organisational cultures and proactively address employee well-being.
Dr George says: “Anxiety and depression related to the hormonal imbalance is a big issue that has been very well documented, and that people most often need help with. Through our 5% Pledge initiative, bosses can be part of transformational change as active agents for menopause in the workplace. They can use their voice and stature to help all employees feel comfortable embracing the issue and to build a supportive workplace.”
Top Five Steps for Better Support
Based on years of experience in healthcare services, Dr George has listed the most important steps for businesses to take in terms of offering better menopause support:
- Awareness - One of the main things is awareness among managers, and also for the women going through it themselves.
- Assets - Women need to know what assets are available through the company. This can be a central point of information such as the company intranet listing all the information and benefits available.
- Open Culture - Creating the atmosphere and opportunity to talk is vital. At Cigna Healthcare, we have nurses who can offer support and connect people with the right tools to help. Many companies offer counselling and guidance for mental health also.
- Normalise - Leaders who have a voice in the organisation should not hesitate to speak about these things to try and normalise them as much as possible - even showing their vulnerability by saying we are not feeling well helps by giving permission to the team that it’s OK to say they’re not feeling good today.
- Workplace Champion - Some tools which can be great first step include ‘Lunch and Learn’ awareness meetings, or having a Championor Case Manager who can rally women to talk about this and explain all the benefits and resources available.
Cigna Healthcare offers a wide range of well-being and women’s health services as part of its wraparound cover for customers. These include:
- Telehealth - Offering access to certified doctors for non-emergency issues, including treatment for menopause symptoms.
- Plan Benefits - Includes virtual or face-to-face appointments with the patient's registered GP.
- Wellness coverage - Includes Routine Physical Exams, while Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is covered by Cigna’s Inspire plans.
- International Employee Assistance Programme (IEAP) - Offers counselling support, emotional wellbeing advice, resources, and information on menopause.
- Cigna's Health & Well-being Assessment and Make One Small Change Initiatives - Both work to assess health status and identify lifestyle changes to improve long-term health and wellbeing.
Dr George believes it’s vital that employers take this issue seriously and help shed the stigma around the subject, for the benefit of the employee and the business in general.
“Openness is the most important thing – to be able to say you are taking time off because you are having hot flushes or symptoms which are making you unable to work would be ideal. We all have to work towards normalising that and being extremely open about this natural life stage.”
About Cigna Healthcare’s 5% Pledge initiative
Cigna’s 5% Pledge is rooted in comprehensive research involving nearly 14,000 employees globally.
The Pledge invites CEOs, business leaders and people managers to make a public commitment to set aside 5% of their annual working hours to foster transformation in organisational cultures and proactively address employee well-being.
With Cigna Healthcare providing the necessary tools and support, leaders who pledge this time can implement actionable changes that make a real difference. Cigna Healthcare believes that for a genuine cultural shift to occur, change must be championed from the top. This commitment aims not only to ensure employees feel secure and supported, but also to shift the perceptions and support mechanisms for mental health in the workplace