Menopause is an unavoidable part of every woman’s life. Anytime from the age of 45 onwards, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decrease, this very natural part of the ageing process can occur, eventually resulting in infertility. But for many, the menopause is a long-winded and difficult life event that is often uncomfortable and at times, distressing. Yet, due to the fact that it is not technically an illness, all too often, the signs and symptoms of menopause are not taken seriously and remain unacknowledged, especially, in the workplace. Below, we discuss whether this should change and if employers should do more to help women experiencing menopause at work.
Menopause: The Symptoms
Women going through the menopause can experience a number of both physical and psychological symptoms including:
- Hot flushes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
- Irregular periods
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- A lack of concentration
- Reduced sex drive
For many, these symptoms can be wholly unpleasant at the best of times, however, at work, can be increasingly hard to control, thus greatly impacting the ability to work. A study from the Government Equalities Office found one in 10 women in their early 50s experience “severe symptoms” caused by menopause which affect their work.
46-year-old Teresa, a healthcare support worker from Leicester, described her struggle with the physical impacts of menopause while at work:
“My uniform was thick: non-breathable black trousers, a heavy poly-cotton top and stout shoes. The ward was so hot and airless even patients were saying they felt faint. The radiators couldn’t be turned down as they were controlled from a central point off the premises. It was like working under a red-hot sun with no fresh air. In my breaks I’d sit in my car with the air-conditioning on full.”
Changing the Taboo
While the effects of menopause on women’s personal lives have been frequently documented, little research has revealed the impacts of menopause on women’s occupational roles. However, this is gradually changing. Last year, a review commissioned by the Department for Education looking at the effects of menopause on women’s economic participation revealed the clear lack of understanding concerning the effect of menopause on women at work. It stated that many employed women over 50 often feel unable to share their feelings concerning problems caused by the menopause for fear of being dismissed. Similarly, it also highlighted the lack of support in the workplace for women experiencing menopause, suggesting that more research should be done looking into how to ease and manage menopausal symptoms, the result of which would benefit both women and the economy as a whole.
Dr Sally Hope, a GP and co-author of a variety of books on the menopause, also agrees with the findings of this research and believes that instead of simply enabling women to take time off, more should be done by bosses to tackle the root of the problem by finding effective solutions to coping with menopause in the workplace. She says:
“Understanding and empathy from higher management makes all the difference: decent ventilation, allowing staff to have fans on their desks and, if they have a uniform, to wear a lighter one; even a power nap at lunchtime — all this improves mood, comfort and productivity.”
Can Employers Help?
While some employers do what they can to help, many fail to acknowledge just how difficult it can be for women to deal with the symptoms of menopause in the workplace. As previously discussed, research suggests that support systems should be put in place by higher management to help women experiencing menopause as part of an all-inclusive approach to ensuring the health and well-being of all employees. This includes performing risk assessments to establish what changes can be made in the workplace to suit a person’s physical and psychological needs, making information and support available to those who need it, and providing specific training for managers in order to ensure appropriate care is provided.
Have you or someone else you know experienced the symptoms of menopause in the workplace? If so, please do get in touch on our social media channels and share your experience with us. For more information concerning women’s health over 50, please visit our health page.