The average age for women in the UK to reach menopause is 51. Menopause actually refers to the day your period stops and is defined by the absence of periods for 12 months prior. The period leading up to menopause is known as perimenopause and this can last up to 10 years, more commonly affecting women for 2-3 years prior to menopause.
How does menopause affect the workplace?
With more than 4.3 million women over 50 in employment in the UK, menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.
And with over 80% of these women suffering from menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep, depression and brain fog, many organisations are establishing menopause policies.
Although they may want to, most women don’t usually leave their job due to menopause, but many either reduce their hours or leave their current job for a new one.
Evidence suggests that the transition to menopause is not a uniform one. We all know a few women who have sailed through, whereas others suffer terribly. Clearly this individual experience will be the same in the workplace.
It’s not just the physical symptoms of perimenopause and menopause that make life difficult; it’s often a tricky time in a woman’s life as they are dealing with teenage children, children leaving home, elderly parents, careers, most of the housework, cooking etc., and usually put themselves last.
Symptoms of Menopause
This juggling act and increased stress can negatively impact physiological and physical symptoms.
Women experience a wide range of physical and physiological symptoms on the road to menopause, such as sleep deprivation, hot flushes, increased anxiety, mood swings, heavy and erratic periods, depression, difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness.
Several studies in the evidence base identify a negative relationship between menopausal symptoms and general performance at work. Unsurprisingly, 94% of women identified that menopause had a negative impact on their careers.
These symptoms impact productivity and time management, reduce job satisfaction, result in higher absences, affect ability to complete tasks effectively, and shake emotional resilience.
In the interests of balance, some evidence emerged from these studies of women claiming that menopause had a positive impact on their career or no impact at all, but these cases were in the minority.
Studies carried out in 2006, 2010 and 2013 found that tiredness due to lack of sleep was one of the main symptoms affecting work performance.
A 2014 review suggested that hot flushes reduce work performance, concentration, attention to detail and the ability to learn.
Menopause in the Workplace
Many work environments exacerbate menopausal symptoms; stuffy, non-ventilated meeting rooms are a menopausal woman’s worst nightmare, and annoyingly, the anticipation of having a hot flush during a meeting can trigger that flush.
Sadly evidence also shows that many women don’t speak up about their struggles, thus impacting team work and even leading to some menopausal women isolating themselves in the workplace.
A 2006 review identified problems with concentration, memory, and decision making as the most problematic for women experiencing menopause in a work context.
I hear this a lot from clients who are rocking it in the boardroom one minute, and struggling to find basic words the next, and it often negatively impacts their confidence and their willingness to contribute in work situations.
Other women cited mood swings as affecting their ability to make work based decisions. It’s hard to make rational decisions if you are feeling super irritable or emotional and oversensitive, and menopausal women often lose confidence in their decision making ability.
These studies found that most women tried to keep these difficult emotions hidden. Some perimenopausal women even worried about heavy periods leading to leakage, and felt the need to constantly check their sanitary products.
Menopause and Your Employer
A 2015 study found that employers tend to view menopause as a personal issue, but I think you will agree after reading the many impacts of menopause on a woman’s career, that this is a ridiculous and outdated mode of thinking.
The same study found that there is little guidance for HR professionals to support women through this transition, and only a very small percentage of women said they were comfortable discussing their symptoms with their line managers.
Some of the studies cited incidents where midlife women were mocked and received negative reactions from colleagues if they displayed or discussed symptoms of menopause.
So what can employers do to support their menopausal staff?
Well, every employer should have a menopause policy; they have one for pregnancy and maternity so why not menopause?
A consistent picture indicates that women in midlife do not feel supported at work and are reluctant to discuss their symptoms and how they affect their working life.
What initiatives can employers put in place?
Well, for a start, well-ventilated rooms with access to toilet facilities and water. Also:
- A flexible working policy; perhaps that will be one advantage of the Covid19 pandemic. I think many of us will either work at home or have a blended way of working in the office and at home.
- A nominated member of HR or senior management to talk to about their transition would be invaluable, particularly as stress at work is linked to an increase in menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Women working with men or younger colleagues tend to feel self-conscious discussing menopause openly.
- An open and frank HR policy regarding menopause, menopause training for managers and HR personnel, and a zero tolerance on any form of gendered ageism or women being ridiculed.
- Support for staff; I speak to many corporates on how to manage menopause, but sadly there are many more organisations without specific workplace initiatives.
Studies (and common sense!) all agree that implementing a menopause policy covering the training of staff and supporting women going through the menopause at work would be hugely beneficial.
We Need to Talk About Menopause
Clearly the rhetoric around discussing menopause openly at work needs to change, but the responsibility for this cannot lie solely with the employer; as women we need to stand up and be heard.
Being open and honest about your struggles and how you would like to be supported by your employer is key.
Employers should be embracing the wisdom and experience that women bring to the table by ensuring open and frank discussions around the issues they are facing during the transition to menopause.
If you would like me to speak to your organisation about how to support women in menopause, what men need to know about menopause, or how to embrace menopause naturally, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have helped hundreds of women in the workplace to understand their menopause better, as well as arming them with actionable tips for a happier, healthier menopause.
Download my guide to Improve Your Mood In Perimenopause by filling in the pop-up on my website.