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What to expect from menopause

Wednesday 18th October 2023 is World Menopause Day, which raises awareness of the effect of menopause on the lives of women around the world. Menopause is completely natural, and every woman will experience it, usually between the ages of 45 and 55 (the UK average age is 51). According to the Faculty of Occupational Health, over 75% of women at menopausal age are in work.

Menopause is divided into three basic stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause. During this time, the ovaries begin to atrophy which causes a decline in the production of the hormones that stimulate the menstrual cycle; oestrogen and progesterone.

Menopause and its symptoms
The menopause process usually takes around four years but can be shorter or longer (in some cases women have experienced symptoms for 12 years).

Symptoms can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Hot flushes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness/lack of energy
  • Irregular and/or painful periods
  • Urinary problems
  • Dry eyes
  • Skin issues
  • Weight gain
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Inability to concentrate/focus
  • Reduced ability to recover from illness

Many of these symptoms will have a negative impact on day-to-day work and productivity. One study found that 40% of those surveyed said their menopause symptoms were causing them to make mistakes at work and another 40% said they had lost interest in their jobs because of this. It is difficult to get accurate figures, but menopause symptoms tend to be the main cause of work absence for women over the age of 45. Could this explain why a quarter of women have considered quitting their jobs because of their menopause?

Even though almost 50% of the workforce is, has or will experience the menopause whilst working, many women feel unable to discuss their symptoms with their line managers. A YouGov survey, supported by the CiPD, found that 65% of respondents were struggling with concentration, 58% were experiencing increased stress levels and over half felt they were less patient with clients and colleagues. Unfortunately, only a quarter of women who took time off work due to their menopause symptoms felt able to be upfront about their reasons. They cited privacy, embarrassment, and unsupportive management.

This all highlights the need to break the stigma that surrounds menopause, so it is no longer a taboo subject.

Breaking the taboo
In October 2019, Channel 4 became the first known UK media company to launch a workplace menopause policy. They are endeavouring to normalise this ‘taboo’ subject in business and intend to improve understanding throughout the business. The aim is to create a more supportive environment for employees before, during and after menopause. Their dedicated ‘menopause champion’ will carry out awareness briefings and factor menopause into their mental health employee network, 4Mind.

Smaller businesses and organisations can follow Channel 4’s lead. A large aspect of managing menopause in the workplace is raising awareness and creating organisational cultures that support women, ensuring they feel able to discuss health concerns openly. Too often managers feel unable to support their teams due to lack of understanding of the condition and symptoms. As with most areas of workplace health and wellbeing, confidence is key.

Management training on the subject is a great place to start. Menopause transition, along with age-related issues men may experience, such as prostate problems, can be incorporated into a wider education on equality and diversity. One government report particularly recommends a focus on improving managers sensitivity and listening skills.

Workplace-wide campaigns can then be implemented to raise staff awareness of the symptoms and issues faced during menopause and ways female employees can manage and minimise the symptoms themselves along with guidelines on how to access organisational support.

How to help in the workplace
Employers have a duty of care to the people they employ. Having a menopause policy in place may help emphasise an organisation’s commitment to seeing menopause as a workplace matter. At the very least, amendments to existing policies may signal a step in the right direction.

There are several ways businesses can support employees experiencing menopause, and most of them are practical for even the smallest business.

  • Providing desk fans and/or ventilation to counter hot flushes
  • Considering desk location to manage temperature
  • Providing a spare uniform
  • Offering a space to change clothes
  • Flexible working options
  • Opportunity to work from home
  • A calm and quiet rest area
  • Natural light where possible
  • Consideration

These policies and workplace changes will not only benefit women transitioning through menopause but also many other employees for a wide variety of reasons. So, it is little wonder that progressive organisations are already offering their staff some or all of them. In most cases, consideration, awareness, and an open approach to managing the menopause is all employers need to support women through this transition and so ensuring that they retain these valuable team members.

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