When one of the island’s biggest private sector employers takes menopause awareness seriously, you know the modern workplace is changing.

At Utmost International Isle of Man, what started as an update to HR policy has, in the space of a year, become a fully-fledged initiative with a ground-level team of trained volunteers, updates to management training and representation at executive level.

The introduction of a menopause policy in March 2023 had a snowballing effect, explained Amy Harrison, Learning and Development manager at Utmost International Isle of Man. ‘After the creation of our Menopause policy, we invited Menopause expert, Jo Posey to come in and talk to us, after which we wanted to create a dedicated menopause champion group amongst our colleagues, to support anybody who might be struggling with symptoms and to understand menopause a little bit better.

‘It was really important for us to include our male colleagues as well,’ she continued. ‘While they're not experiencing menopause themselves, they may have a partner or somebody that's going through the symptoms, and they might need tips on how to offer help and support while their wives, partners or mums are going through it.’

Utmost International Isle of Man employs more than 600 people on the island, with women making up 55% of the workforce. Of those, 36% are of either perimenopausal or menopausal age. Menopause can also start earlier due to surgery, cancer treatment or genetic factors.

With management support, which included nominating a menopause champion at executive level, a group of volunteers undertook a menopause first aid training course, akin to the mental health first aid training which is becoming increasingly common in the workplace. The group offers advice, support, information and suggests work-place adjustments.

‘We have nine volunteers who are absolutely amazing,’ Amy said. ‘They've all got different experiences of their own to share, including somebody who has had a hysterectomy, and somebody who had cancer, so they’ve had to go through menopause, perhaps earlier than they expected.

‘Then there are those like myself dealing with a myriad of weird and wonderful symptoms that come up on a day to day basis, and learning how to navigate your way through them.’

Alongside the better known (and too-easily-dismissed) effects like hot flushes is a list of symptoms that can be borderline debilitating. Nobody would make light of brain fog, anxiety, or long-term sleep problems, all of them common symptoms for those experiencing menopause.

Brain fog, Amy said, is surprisingly common. ‘If you’re trying to focus on something, or you're trying to deliver a presentation, it can be really difficult because you can't think of the words to say - all the words are blank in your head. In the workplace that can be extremely difficult to negotiate.’

These problems, and other invisible symptoms like anxiety, can be frightening, isolating an confidence-destroying. The initiative, Amy said, gives people an opportunity to talk and not suffer on their own, or feel frightened to talk to their manager.

Other, more subtle changes are taking place, such as the decisions made during a recent office refurbishment: ‘They deliberately decided not to have cream-coloured sofas, because women reported heavy periods during menopause. That was a really thoughtful initiative and can help massively with any perceived embarrassment’, Amy said.

Most profoundly, in a development which sets the tone for the culture of the company, menopause awareness is now part of Utmost International Isle of Man’s management training programme.

‘The aim is to give every manager a consistent approach,’ Amy said. ‘It's a big deal because it's not just a few managers that understand it now, it's across every single manager, no matter how old you are, or what gender you are’.

‘I'm incredibly pleased that Utmost International Isle of Man are supporting this initiative and that we're able to offer this support to colleagues, both male and female.’