Back in 2012, when I first started talking about the challenges of experiencing symptoms of menopause in the workplace, I could only find one research study into the subject. That study was carried o
ut in 2010 by Amanda Griffiths et al of The University of Nottingham for Institute of Work, Health and Organisations*.
In the past three years the research studies have been coming thick and fast. There’s practically a new set of statistics every month. Surveys have been carried out by universities, institutes, trade unions and employers. So, what is going on?
On the Hot Women Rock Radio Show this week I talked about my own experience of menopause in the workplace and how women can support their own health.
Why menopause is a workplace issue
There are more women over 50 in the workplace than ever before and they are the fastest growing demographic. Women in their 40s and 50s are often reaching the peak of their careers. All of the studying, training, and experience is starting to pay off for the employee and their employers.
Whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur, your wisdom is valuable to the people you work with and to you. No one wants to lose all of that if or when menopause symptoms start. And yet nearly a quarter of women in that age group consider leaving their jobs.
My own experience of transitioning through menopause at work was mixed. I started learning about menopause in my 30s because I wanted to be prepared. By the time I was in my late 40s, I was commuting for at least three hours a day on packed trains and I was frequently worried about having a hot flush and having to strip off!
Despite my research, brain fog took me by surprise. I constantly felt like the world had gone out of focus, like I needed a new pair of glasses. That’s not a great feeling when you are in a senior role. I definitely did not think that I could talk to my manager about my symptoms.
I often thought about taking on a less demanding role. Finally, I did leave my job and make a drastic career change in my mid-50s but that was because I was passionate about supporting other women.
Let’s look at the statistics on workplace menopause
In a report published by CIPD in 2019, 75% of women of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 reported that they regularly experienced menopause symptoms. As a result:
- 59% reported difficulties that negatively affect their performance
- 52% said they had less patience with clients and colleagues
- 58% experienced more stress
- 65% were less able to concentrate
- 30% had taken sick leave because of their symptoms (CIPD, 2019)
A more recent survey by YouGov commissioned by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors that talked to 1,000 UK-based HR Professionals found that:
- 77% do not train line managers on the menopause.
- 44% had not thought about it;
- 15% didn’t consider it a priority; and
- 7% claimed that sensitivities and embarrassment about the issue were holding them back
Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents said they did not consider menopause during performance reviews for female staff, while half (50 per cent) said they were confident women in their organisation felt able to talk about the menopause. However, in earlier research
- 45% of women who said they could not talk about menopause with their manager cited privacy as their main concern.
- 34% said embarrassment was the issue and
- 32% said an unsupportive manager was the reason.
Although employers are much more active in engaging with supporting employees at menopause now there is still a long way to go. So, women need to be proactive in advocating for support and managing their own self-care.
What can women employees do if they are experiencing symptoms?
1) Research your employer’s health and wellbeing policies. Do they have a specific menopause policy? What support can you expect?
2) Find out if your organisation has menopause resources that you can access such as: an intranet site, fact sheets, a women’s support group or a Menopause Champion.
3) Do you belong to a Trade Union that can offer you menopause resources?
4) Before you approach your manager for assistance, think about what you specifically want from your employer. The sort of reasonable adjustments you could request include: flexible working, a desk fan, change of duties, access to water and toilets, changes to uniform, and access to a rest room.
5) If your symptoms are affecting your work performance, ask your doctor for a letter setting out how you are being impacted. If your manager doesn’t take your condition seriously ask to be referred to occupational health, a welfare officer or other employee wellbeing resource.
What action can women take to manage their symptoms?
1) Manage your stress – Persistent stress can make menopause symptoms more frequent and intense. Use some basic stress management techniques at work such as creating daily to do lists, prioritising your tasks, and learning to say ‘no’. At home, focus on your self-care. Take time every day to do something that helps you to relax such as meditation, going for walks, chatting with friends, and co
nnecting with nature.
2) Review your Nutrition – What you eat and drink sets the foundations for your health during menopause and beyond. Start by noticing the foods and drinks that trigger your symptoms and then reduce or eliminate them. Common triggers include caffeine, sugar, simple carbohydrates, red meat and alcohol. A Mediterranean diet has been shown to be more supportive for health at menopause (fish, lean meat, vegetables, fruit, healthy oils).
3) Consider your exercise – Exercise has many benefits for physical and emotional health. Any activity more than nothing is a bonus. A combination of activities that you enjoy can protect you heart, lungs and bone strength. Good options include HIIT, resistance training, stretching, yoga, and a limited amount of cardio vascular exercise.
4) There are a variety of complementary therapies that can be helpful at menopause for example: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, hypnotherapy, herbal remedies (agnus castus, black cohosh, evening primrose, red clover), aromatherapy, reflexology and Traditional Chinese Medicine
5) If you are considering taking hormone therapy do some research into the benefits and risks so that you can advocate for what you want from your medical practitioner. There are resources on the British Medical Society and North American Menopause Society websites.
If you need more help to manage your menopause symptoms or to support your organisation to introduce workplace menopause policies contact me to arrange a chat.
*Griffiths, A., MacLennan, S., Wong, y., Women’s Experience of Working through the Menopause, 2010, Institute of Work, Health & Organisation