Many workplaces and employers are interested in the impact of the perimenopause and menopause at work. Women usually experience the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with 51 being the average age in Western Europe. With around 75% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms, and 25% of these women having moderate to severe symptoms, it’s not surprising that the menopause can have a significant effect on women’s working lives.

This article was included in issue 92 (spring 2022) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Legal issues
Senior Paralegal Grace Hovarth-Franco from Stewarts Law, a legal practice, has written an article on Menopause in the Workplace looking at many issues including legal protection saying that ‘Currently, there is no legislation specifically relating to menopause’. [Link to article: women-be-legally-protected-in the-workplace/]

Symptom trouble
There are more than 30 possible symptoms of the menopause. The symptoms that are most likely to affect your working life are hot flushes and night sweats (leading to insomnia and daytime tiredness) and a lack of concentration, causing problems with making decisions and general coping. Other symptoms that could affect your work include headaches, joint pains, palpitations, changes in mood, memory loss, brain fog, irritability, anxiety, depression, needing to go to the loo regularly, and period problems.

Stress effects
Stress at work can make some menopausal symptoms worse, especially if you’re also making decisions about how to cope and taking extra time off work to consult a doctor. Some women who take time off won’t mention the menopause when giving a reason for their absence (unlike if they suffered, for example, from asthma, diabetes or arthritis). Older working women may feel that they’re in competition with younger colleagues. This can lead to a loss of self-esteem and low mood.

The menopause often comes at a time when other things may be taking place 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 also affect your menopausal symptoms and how you cope.

Menopause at work
The workplace can affect your experience of the menopause in several ways. You and your workplace may need to look into:

  • open-plan offices
  • working in fixed positions
  • being able to put your desk near a window that can be opened
  • sitting away from a radiator
  • having adjustable temperature and humidity controls in the room
  • being able to use electric fans
  • having a lack of ventilation in the work environment
  • flexible working hours
  • shift work
  • having access to cold drinking water
  • needing regular loo breaks, which may cause problems if you’re working to set targets or deadlines
  • wearing synthetic or tight uniforms that can increase sweating

Workplaces vary; the situation in an office will differ from that in schools, hospitals, stores, the police, fire brigade etc.

Help at work
Your workplace needs to proactively help you cope with troublesome menopausal symptoms by providing you with 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.

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. If buildings are old, it may be impossible or difficult to make certain adjustments. Line managers need to be taught good communication skills as they may feel uncomfortable discussing the menopause, and they should be able to hold meetings in a quiet place where discussions can remain confidential.

You may find it difficult to speak to your line manager (especially if they’re male or younger than you). Many companies and organisations are appointing a dedicated menopause champion or ambassador. This can be an employee going through the menopause, an occupational health nurse, a learning and development manager, a diversity and inclusion manager or someone in HR. You may find it easier to speak to one of them instead.

It’s important for a workplace to implement a menopause policy or guidance. Employers should put in place risk assessments and sickness absence procedures for menopause-related sickness absences, and need to make sure that working conditions don’t worsen a woman’s symptoms. Making changes at work may lead to fewer days off work, maximise productivity, reduce stigma and embarrassment when women are in the company of colleagues, managers and clients, improve job satisfaction and wellbeing, and make the workplace environment as comfortable as possible for menopausal women.

Helping yourself
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 its impact on all aspects of day-to-day life.

Get help from The Menopause Exchange
It’s important to organise menopause sessions on ‘Understanding the menopause’ and also training for managers and employers. Norma Goldman (B. Pharm. MRPharmS. MSc.), founder and director of The Menopause Exchange, gives presentations to workplaces about the menopause. She qualified as a pharmacist and is a qualified health promotion specialist. For more details about her presentations, visit page 8. Norma can also give advice to managers and help with writing menopause policies.

Created Spring 2022
Copyright © The Menopause Exchange 2022

Tags: employers, help, legal issues, line managers, managers, menopause, menopause champion, perimenopause, stress effects, symptoms, work, workplaces