Workplaces and employers are more interested than ever in understanding how the perimenopause and menopause affects work. In Spring 2023, around three-and-a-half million women aged 45 to 54 were employed in the UK, working full- or part-time while trying to cope with the menopause. Women usually experience the menopause between ages 45 and 55, with 51 being the average age in Western Europe. One in every 100 women experience premature ovarian insufficiency (the menopause before age 40). With around 80% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms, and 25% of them experiencing more severe symptoms, it’s not surprising that the menopause can have a significant effect on working lives.
This article was included in issue 99 (winter 2023-24) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.
There are more than 30 possible symptoms of the menopause. Those most likely to affect your working life are hot flushes and night sweats (leading to insomnia and daytime tiredness) and poor concentration, causing problems with making decisions. Other symptoms that could affect your work include headaches, joint aches and pains, palpitations, mood swings, brain fog, memory loss, irritability, anxiety, needing to go to the loo regularly, and period changes.
The menopause often comes at a time when other things are happening in your life, such as changing friendships and relationships. In addition, you may belong to the sandwich generation, having to juggle elderly relatives, children and even grandchildren. This may affect your menopausal symptoms and how you cope.
Stress at work can make some menopausal symptoms worse, and you may need to take time off work to consult a doctor. Some women won’t mention the menopause when giving a reason for their absence (unlike if they suffered from, for example, asthma or arthritis). Older women may feel they’re in competition with younger colleagues, reducing self-esteem and causing low mood.
Menopause at work
The workplace can affect your experience of the menopause in several ways. The situation in an office will differ from that in schools, hospitals, shops, the police, fire brigade etc. It will also vary if you’re in an open-plan office, work in a fixed position or wear synthetic or tight uniforms that increase sweating. If buildings are old, it may be impossible or difficult to make certain adjustments. But you and your workplace may need to look at:
- putting your desk near a window that can be opened
- having adjustable temperature and humidity controls in the room
- being able to use fans
- ventilation and air conditioning
- flexible working hours and hybrid working
- needing regular loo breaks
- changing or adapting uniforms
Don’t be embarrassed to bring up the topic of the menopause at work. This will help to reduce the stigma of the menopause in your workplace, and will make sure that your work colleagues know about menopausal symptoms and their impact on all aspects of day-to-day life.
Help at work
Your workplace needs to proactively help you cope with troublesome menopausal symptoms by providing well-researched, impartial and practical information from reputable sources. Information about an occupational health department or an employment assisted programme (EAP), if your workplace has one, should be available. My April 2023 article ‘Menopause at work: How HR teams can offer support’ is on the People Management website and on People Management Daily, both of which are aimed at HR professionals.
Managers, health and safety officers and anyone else responsible for the wellbeing of employees need to know about the health implications of the menopause. They need to have access to formal training, so they can take the menopause seriously and make changes to the work environment. One solution won’t fit everyone and every workplace. Line managers need to be taught good communication skills to avoid feeling uncomfortable discussing the menopause, and they should be able to hold meetings in a quiet and confidential place.
You may find it difficult to speak to your line manager (especially if they’re male or younger than you), so you may need to find someone else. Many companies and organisations have appointed a dedicated menopause champion or ambassador. This may be an employee, an occupational health nurse, a learning and development manager, a diversity and inclusion manager or someone in HR.
A workplace should implement a menopause policy or guidance. Employers should put in place risk assessments and procedures for menopause-related sickness absences, and need to make sure working conditions don’t worsen your symptoms. Making changes may lead to fewer days off work, maximise productivity, reduce stigma and embarrassment when you’re with colleagues, managers and clients, improve job satisfaction and wellbeing, and make the workplace environment as comfortable as possible for you.
Get help from us
It’s important to organise workplace sessions on ‘Understanding the menopause’ for those experiencing the perimenopause and menopause. Norma Goldman (BPharm. MRPharmS. MSc.), founder and director of The Menopause Exchange, gives these presentations to menopause cafes, support/working/action groups and workplaces in general. Her other presentations include ‘The Menopause for Managers, Human Resources and Employers’ and ‘The Menopause for Menopause Champions’.
Norma qualified as a pharmacist and is a qualified health promotion specialist. For more details about her presentations, visit page 8. You can also visit www.menopause-exchange.co.uk.
Created Winter 2023-24
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