Premature Ovarian Failure in the Workplace
There is a general view that menopause only affects women at midlife. But Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) can occur at any time after the start of menstruation up to age 40. It results in early menopause and is another opportunity for employers to support women’s wellbeing in the workplace.
This condition affects approximately 1% of women and the causes are not clearly understood. It is the theme of this year’s World Menopause Day 2020 on 18 October, which is organised by the International Menopause Society to raise awareness of menopause issues.
“My official diagnosis of menopause came on my 36th birthday. I’d had one child. To me, this was like ‘game over’. I don’t have the option to have children any more. I felt like I’d been hit by a train. That was the hardest thing to come to terms with.”
Impact on Employees
The impact on women in the workplace may include poor performance, lack of concentration, increased sick leave and lack of confidence to carry out new or routine tasks. As L, a marketing and branding consultant, told me:
‘At work I wasn’t engaged in the same way with my colleagues. Everything irritated me beyond belief. My colleagues were aware that something wasn’t quite right. They are both women who are older than me but neither of them had any experience of symptoms of the menopause. At least they could sympathise with me.’
The symptoms of POI are the basically the same as menopause including:
- hot flushes and night sweats,
- brain fog,
- sleep problems,
- changes to menstrual periods and
Any of those symptoms or a combination of them can impact on workplace performance. For young women, POI can come as an unexpected and unpleasant shock, whatever age it occurs. It can give rise to feelings of loss and grief connected to loss of options to have children.
Medical professionals may be slow to diagnose the issue in young women unless they carry out blood tests. It can be misdiagnosed as low mood, anxiety or problems with thyroid function. Once diagnosed treatment will generally involve Hormone Therapy (HRT) to protect bone density and heart strength.
Top Tips for Employers
Supporting women at menopause in the workplace can have significant benefits for organisations such as improved performance, less sickness leave, improved morale and retention of experienced employees.
To support women with POI:
- Provide a culture where women feel comfortable to talk about personal health issues.
- Train line-managers to have sensitive conversations
- Raise awareness of menopause in the workforce
- Carry out a workplace risk assessment.
- Discuss reasonable adjustments such as: review of duties, enabling flexible working hours, creating access to cold water and providing a rest room.
- Survey employees to find out what support they need at menopause
Handled well, employees can feel more committed and motivated to succeed. As L told me:
“My employer was wonderful. I can’t fault her. I was honest with her about what I was experiencing. She knew I was struggling but I was getting my work done. I’m a Company Director now as well so we run the company together. I am happy now and fit and healthy and strong.”
For more information on how to support women in the workplace at menopause contact me for a chat today.
For more information about Premature Ovarian Insufficiency see the IMS White Paper