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22 Jun 2021

The menopause: its biggest challenges at work and how to support employees

Whether it’s on a personal level or within your organisation, the natural female ageing process and its raft of challenging physical, psychological and emotional symptoms will likely touch your life in one way or another.


Office for National Statistics figures show there are 4.4 million working women aged 45 to 55, and women over 50 are the fastest growing demographic of workers. Every one of them (some even younger) will experience menopause symptoms to varying degrees of severity. For some these symptoms will be somewhat mild, however, six out of every 10 women say it has a negative impact on their work. And this shared experience isn’t just a fleeting interlude – symptoms last on average around four years, however one in 10 women can experience symptoms for up to 12 years.

The menopause is therefore a highly significant occupational health and people management issue. If support is lacking, it costs in absenteeism and talent. Research carried out by the CIPD shows that almost one million women have resigned from their jobs because of symptoms, and others take up to 32 weeks leave on average throughout their career to manage the impact.

Menopausal symptoms at work

Various online sources cite more than 60 different menopausal symptoms. The physical ones that have a particular impact at work include: regular hot flushes causing heavy perspiration and rapid heartbeat; urinary incontinence; joint soreness; insomnia; headaches and dizziness. Women’s mental health at work can also take a severe hit as a result of depression and anxiety; fatigue; brain fog; and mood swings.

The related challenges at work go further than just the symptoms experienced by mind and body. There are additional complications driven by attitudes, culture and a lack of awareness. Whilst changing these may feel like a large mountain to climb, there are simple practical changes, policy amendments and subtle cultural shifts that can make a huge difference when it comes to being a menopause-friendly workplace.

Challenge #1: Stigma

Great inroads have been made into acceptance around mental health issues in the workplace. However, despite the scale of the menopause challenge and its far-reaching consequences, it’s mostly considered too personal – or possibly too shameful – to broach. Women are reluctant or embarrassed to talk openly with managers or male colleagues (possibly because they may not even fully understand or correctly diagnose what’s happening to them). This sense of taboo continues the never-ending cycle of stigma in many organisations.

Menopause-friendly action

The menopause needs to become an all-inclusive subject of conversation in the workplace. Open channels of communication between men and women of all ages, races and religions, who understand and feel comfortable talking about it, are central to a positive outcome for businesses and their people.

Managers who are informed and foster supportive, empathetic relationships with employees will be pivotal in helping remove the stigma. Simply having a conversation can normalise what women are going through, as well as helping to inform your wider workforce of the symptoms. Internal communication through awareness and education campaigns, relevant management training and broadcasting readily available information will also make big inroads into breaking down the barriers to conversation.

Challenge #2: Physical symptoms

The effects of ongoing insomnia can be damaging especially when they are combined with the discomfort and embarrassment associated with hot flushes and urinary incontinence.  Joint soreness, headaches and dizziness are amongst the myriad challenging daily physical symptoms that women regularly work alongside.

Menopause-friendly action

Making appropriate and sufficient adjustments to the workplace to satisfy the needs of menopausal women is not just the right thing to do, it also falls within a health and safety legal duty for employers.

Introducing a ‘menopause policy’ which offers flexible working options would make a huge difference to someone who struggles to sleep until the early hours of the morning. Providing quiet spaces or rest rooms; ensuring that uniforms are made from natural breathable fibres; being able to sit near an open window or have a desk fan are achievable solutions and demonstrate a welcome sense of consideration. Training line managers in how to comfortably carry out appropriate conversations in this unchartered territory is an important, complementary action to take.

Challenge #3: Mental symptoms

The mental symptoms of the menopause such as ‘brain fog’ and mood swings can directly impact someone’s performance at work. It reduces memory capacity, the ability to learn, concentrate, make decisions, meet deadlines and prioritise work. And if the organisation does not face-up to the situation by having the correct formal and informal support in place, the negative cycle continues to spin.

Menopause-friendly action

The millions of women caught up in this cycle need reassurance that they are not alone. Regular catch-ups through support groups and even menopause cafes can provide open means and ways for them to talk – and sometimes this can go a long way to relieving symptoms.

Managers again are the lynchpin to a successful outcome and conversations with employees can help assess whether the work environment is suitable and doesn’t exacerbate their symptoms. Where there is a perceived change in a woman’s work performance, conversations need to take menopause-related health issues into account.

Challenge #4: Psychological and emotional upheaval

The knock-on psychological impact of the debilitating physical and mental symptoms should not be under-estimated. There is often a fearful sense of change experienced which detracts from women’s normal personality and previous identity. Low morale, a sense of isolation, damaged self-confidence, depression and heightened anxiety can be the end result for this valuable workplace demographic.

Menopause-friendly action

There are certain conversations which are best signposted towards professional support to enable women to perform at their best. That is where an employee assistance programme (EAP) comes into its own, giving managers the ability to signpost to mental health counselling and advice services for valuable and meaningful support.

Where absences are recorded because of anxiety, stress and depression, it may be that the employee does not feel confident to be able to disclose the true reason behind the absence. It’s important to adopt a supportive approach when carrying out welfare contact and welcome-back discussions need to be undertaken sensitively.

Closing thoughts

The menopause should be openly discussed in the workplace. The physical, mental and emotional symptoms suffered by millions of women on a daily basis should be the subject of internal education in order to place the right support mechanisms in place. There’s an urgent need not just to do the right thing by this skilled and experienced group of people who are at the top of their game, but also to reap the business benefits that are delivered in parallel.

You can find articles and further information on health and wellbeing issues in the workplace in Simplyhealth’s Insights Hub.

The article is provided by Simplyhealth.

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