Menopause. Until recently, it’s a word that so many of us have been afraid to mention, especially at work. RealSense take a closer look at the menopause and menopause symptoms as well as the impact on women, family, friends and the workplace.
In recent months, high-profile women from media, politics, business, and sport have all been helping break down the taboo and talking menopause. In the UK, large audiences have identified with celebrity Davina McCall in the Channel 4 TV programme “Sex, Myths and the Menopause“, and Lorraine Kelly and Lisa Snowdon have also spoken out about their menopause experiences. These are just some examples that have opened up the menopause conversation for thousands of women, partners, families, friends, colleagues and employers.
However, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon told podcast The Shift (on “Life after 40” with Sam Baker) – ‘Talking about it like this, I am so far out of my comfort zone, in terms of the intensely personal nature of it. That tells me that no matter how far we’ve come in this discussion, we still have a long way to go that somebody like me still feels kind of uncomfortable with it’.
Figures show that in the UK there are approximately 5 million people experiencing menopause, and 80% of them are now working through menopause and beyond. In fact, the average woman could work for up to 16 years after transitioning through menopause.
Unlike pregnancy or maternity, the menopause is not well understood or provided for in workplace cultures, policies, or training and until recently the importance of understanding the menopause in the context of the workplace had been overlooked.
What is menopause and perimenopause?
For most women, during mid-life, their oestrogen levels will start to decline, and eventually they will stop having periods. This is known as natural menopause. Symptoms of declining oestrogen can last for up to 15 years, so the menopause is considered to be more of a ‘transition’ than a one-off event.
The years leading up to menopause are known as perimenopause and this stage comes with a number of symptoms. Some women may experience all these symptoms, others none at all. The majority sit somewhere in the middle, with the NHS reporting that ‘about 8 out of ten women will have symptoms for some time before or after their periods stop’. These symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life for many women.
The average age of menopause in the UK is 51. However, some women will experience menopause earlier, either due to ‘early or premature menopause’, or as a result of illness, medical treatments or procedures. The menopause can also be experienced by non-binary and transgender people.
34 menopause symptoms
There are 34 recognised menopause symptoms which can be physical, psychological, or cognitive of which these are considered the most common:
- Hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck, or chest
- Night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
- ‘Brain fog’ – Problems with memory and concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irregular or heavy periods
- Mood changes such as low mood or anxiety
- Joint stiffness, aches, and pains
For an in depth look at all recognised symptoms then please look out for our dedicated blog that contains the details of all 34 menopause symptoms – coming soon.
As oestrogen receptors are present throughout the whole body, when this hormone starts to decline or become erratic, a woman may also experience problems with the reproductive tract, heart and blood vessels, bones, skin, hair, nails, pelvic muscles or brain. The menopause can also increase the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular problems. The Alzheimer’s Society also reports that “researchers think oestrogen may cause the body to make more antioxidants, protecting brain cells from damage. This could explain why the sudden drop in women’s oestrogen levels following menopause seems to make them more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s”.
Clearly, there’s more to menopause than just feeling a bit hot while waiting for periods to come to an end.
Fortunately, through increased publicity, women are becoming more aware of the choices they have to help them through the menopause transition. Celebrities such as Davina McCall have worked with menopause experts to provide clear, evidence-based information about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and its alternatives. Almost daily, articles and information about menopause are being discussed and provided on news websites such as the BBC and factual TV shows such as This Morning.
Menopause at work
Despite increased media coverage, support for menopausal women in the workplace still lags behind. The TUC found that ‘9 out of 10 menopausal women say symptoms have had a negative effect on their work and they wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason they were taking a sick day, instead stating anxiety or stress’.
Dorothy Byrne (previous editor-at-large at Channel 4 and Head of News and Current Affairs) gave a MacTaggart Lecture at Edinburgh Television festival and summed it up for many women when she stated that “even getting your boss to understand there is such a thing as the menopause can be a problem”.
The Government Report on Menopause found that menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace and according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine around four out of five menopausal aged women are in work. Consequently, at any time, a significant proportion of the workforce will be experiencing menopause symptoms. Many employers are still unaware of these symptoms which affect their workforce on a daily basis, which is why it’s more important than ever to raise awareness and create more inclusive and supportive environments.
Statistics about menopause at work
- 65% of menopausal women said they were less able to concentrate at work
- 52% said they felt less patient with clients and colleagues
- 30% had taken sick leave because of their symptoms but only a quarter felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence
Research also found than one in eight female employees had left work due to menopausal symptoms, and 21% had not applied for a promotion because they felt that their symptoms held them back.
Is the workplace environment part of the problem?
The workplace environment itself can exacerbate menopause symptoms in a multitude of ways:
- Inadequate ventilation, high temperatures and humidity can increase hot flushes
- Stress related to workload, meetings and job role can all impact anxiety and low mood
- The physical demands of the job – such as using machinery – can worsen aching joints and headaches, and make heavy periods harder to manage
Many women feel that they can’t raise these issues or talk about their symptoms for fear their employers might think they can no longer do their job. They fear being stereotyped or worry that they will be mocked, or made to look foolish. The TUC found that women can feel embarrassed to raise the topic of menopause, and many feel like they won’t be taken seriously.
Research into the impact of menopause on the workplace is ongoing, and the TUC reports that ‘a common theme is lack of awareness and empathy, and ignorance around menopause and its impact from line managers and colleagues in general’.
Negative impact of menopause at work
Not receiving adequate support at work can have a negative affect on any individual in the workplace including:
- Reduced engagement with work
- Reduced job satisfaction
- Reduced commitment to an organisation
- Higher sickness absence
- An increased desire to leave
In fact, according to HR Review, the menopause costs UK economy 14 million working days per year. The lack of awareness around menopause in the workplace is now becoming a significant issue, prompting MP Carolyn Harris to put the Menopause (Support and Services) Bill before the House of Commons, seeking the provision of support for women experiencing menopause – including in the workplace.
Menopause support at work
An inclusive, supportive workplace culture overcomes barriers, and cares for the wellbeing of employees. Women experiencing menopause symptoms are more likely to speak up when their managers or colleagues are empathetic, and say they value their support.
Large organisations are already leading the way with supporting menopause at work, such as Sainsburys shining the spotlight on menopause and Boots paying for team members’ HRT prescriptions in leading menopause package. Smaller workplaces may be less knowledgeable or unsure how to support menopause at work, so RealSense has taken a closer look at how online training can provide initial guidance, be used to raise awareness, improve understanding, and help organisations provide greater support to create a menopause inclusive workplace.
A menopause inclusive workplace
The following considerations can help support both employers and employees, and are useful for anyone either transitioning through menopause or those supporting people at work during this time.
Menopause and the law
Employers have a legal duty of care to support employees in the workplace. Under the Equality Act 2010, discrimination against menopause can fall under the three protected characteristics of age, sex, and disability discrimination. Additionally, the parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee states that ‘The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) provides for safe working, which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms’. Every organisation is different, but the law applies to us all.
Menopause and workplace adjustments
Examples of reasonable adjustments to working conditions often include things like working from home or adapting your chair or office furniture. Most women have to keep working through their menopause, so small changes can often make a big difference. For those with menopausal symptoms, adjustments might include providing more comfortable uniforms, allowing more flexible working hours or giving more frequent bathroom breaks.
Menopause and wellbeing
Guidance from the Faculty of Occupational Health suggests that regularly checking in with employee wellbeing can be helpful. Many workplaces now have Workplace Wellbeing schemes that focus on Mental Health and include the impact of the menopause on people’s health and wellbeing.
If you already provide staff with information about healthy eating, meditation, the benefits of exercise and sleep behaviours, then all of these can be used to help support menopause. Taking proactive steps to create a more open, supportive culture and modelling healthy behaviours is a good place to start.
Menopause in workplace policy
Make sure that you have a clear, concise Menopause Policy which includes all the reasonable adjustments that can be made in the workplace, and signposts employees to help and support, both inside your organisation and through external bodies and charities.
Implement a zero-tolerance policy for mockery, jokes, and disrespectful behaviour.
Menopause in workplace communications
How comfortable are you talking to your colleagues about menopause? Provide an open, supportive workplace culture to help overcome barriers. Why not put a menopause symptoms list in the staff room, where all employees can read it? You could hold training sessions or workshops for employees. Some companies provide health checks – menopause awareness could be included in these. Menopause support is very much a part of Occupational Health so speak to your HR or wellbeing teams to see what they can do to help.
Menopause training at work
A growing number of organisations are reaching out for solutions to support and train their people about menopause. In collaboration with industry leading expert, June Potts of Menopause 360, RealSense have created a menopause awareness training package, to help provide a clear understanding of the importance of supporting menopause at work.
June Potts says “The menopause awareness programme is designed for organisations to support their employees and is a game-changer. With only 28% of organisations supporting their employees through the menopause, this is a great pain free option to raise awareness. Taking the first step to open up conversations is important and this course module delivers. This is a great training option for all”.
Menopause awareness e-learning
The menopause awareness online training course explains the types and stages of menopause and explores menopause symptoms in more detail. Importantly, our menopause awareness training course provides extensive details about supporting menopause at work and information about starting the menopause conversation.
The course is aimed at managers, menopause champions and team members who are experiencing the menopause or supporting someone who is.
- Understanding the Menopause
- Menopause And the Workplace
- Starting the Menopause Conversation
- Support And Advice
If you’d like to find out more about our Menopause Awareness training course we’re here to help. We can customise content to meet your training needs, whether incorporating branding, adding specific policies, or ensuring we reflect your organisation’s culture. We also design and develop bespoke digital learning solutions, collaborating with leading organisations across the UK. So, whether you need a course tailored specifically to your organisation or are looking for something a little different for your workforce, then please get in touch.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
June Potts is Founder and Director of Menopause 360 Consultancy. Menopause 360 focuses on supporting and educating organisations to raise menopause awareness at work to create a menopause friendly and inclusive workplace.
RealSense Learning (RealSense) is an e-learning developer providing digital learning experiences to both public and private sectors for over 20 years. With a growing content library that supports staff knowledge and wellbeing, our online learning courses are used by thousands of organisations in over 43 countries worldwide.