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All women go through the menopause. Almost half of the UK workforce (47%) is made up of women aged 50 or older. About two thirds of the women are aged between 50-59 years, therefore many will be experiencing the menopause or will have been through it. Women are living longer, working longer and make up a huge proportion of the workforce, therefore there will be more women in the workplace experiencing symptoms of the menopause.
Menopause should not be seen as a medical problem but as another normal stage in a woman’s life that she goes through, just like starting menstruation or pregnancy. The psychological, spiritual and emotional changes women experience during this phase of their life are not often taken into consideration by the medical profession who want to fix “menopause” when it is a major part of evolution and cannot be stopped. Menopausal women can be helped to cope with the symptoms the menopause can cause to enable them to continue a normal, healthy and happy life. The menopause is part of the ageing process and is not a medical condition but the symptoms that it causes can have a significant effect upon the physical, psychological and social well-being of women in the workplace.
Many managers are unaware of the many physical symptoms a woman can experience when going through the menopause, especially if they are male, have not experienced the menopause yet or were not significantly affected by it. Some male managers may be more sympathetic if their partner has experienced the menopause than female bosses who have not reached the menopause yet.
Many women are affected by hot flushes or flashes. According to the Working through the Change study (TUC 2003) they reported that 70% of women experience hot flushes for 1 year, 30% for five years and 5-10% for 10-15 years. Other symptoms include night sweats, sleep disturbances, palpitations, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, urinary incontinence and mood swings. Often menopausal women are also having to deal with teenagers, children leaving home or returning home after university or marriage break down, caring for grandchildren or elderly parents as well as running their home.
The Women at Work study conducted by La Trobe University and Monash University in Melbourne Australia (2014) questioned 839 women aged 40-75 (average age 51) working in higher education about how being menopausal affected their work. Two thirds of the women had experienced problematic symptoms at work such as hot flushes, headaches and tiredness. 81% reported that they were valued for the work they did but only 1% said that their workplace had any management training to help women going through the menopause. Those women who felt anxious about their symptoms indicated that they were considering leaving, had less job satisfaction, were less engaged at work and had less organisation commitment.
Researchers from the University of Illinois and Northwest University in Chicago (2013) found that women who experience hot flushes have poorer memories than those who had fewer hot flushes. Also, those who reported negative emotions towards going through the menopause had poor memory too.
Supporting women experiencing the menopause can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and make the workplace environment as comfortable as possible. Many workplaces are too hot and lack ventilation. This can cause problems for any employee, not just menopausal women. Many women feel that they cannot discuss their problems with their line manager but can be referred to occupational health where an experienced healthcare professional will provide confidential support for them and make recommendations to their managers about how to make the work environment more suitable for the needs of their employee.
There seems to be a lack of awareness within workplaces about the impact symptoms of the menopause can cause but by implementing simple changes into the work environment and through training, the lives of many women experiencing menopausal symptoms can be greatly alleviated. Both women and their employers will benefit if they implement some or all of the following tips:
If you are finding that your menopausal symptoms are affecting your work, ask to speak to the Occupational Health Advisor, see your GP or practice nurse. They will advise you about how to approach your employer to help alleviate some of the problems experienced in the workplace.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) have launched guidance on menopause in the workplace. This guidance is aimed at women going through menopause and experiencing the impact it has on their working lives. It also offers employers practical guidance on how to improve workplace environments for menopausal women.
Dr Louise Newson: menopausedoctor.co.uk teaches training sessions for the West Midlands Police, West Midlands Fire Service and West Midlands Association for Women in Policing to educate both men and women about the impact of the menopause on women in the workplace and raise awareness of ways in which they can overcome symptoms that may be affecting their work.
Diane Danzebrink is an amazing person who set up Menopause Support after discovering there was no support following her surgery which sent her into menopause. She is a tireless campaigner, in parliament, on TV, radio and in the press to help women get the right diagnosis, advice, support and treatment to enable them live their lives during and beyond the menopause. Menopause does not just affect women but everyone, partners, family, children, frineds, employers and work colleagues.
Please sign her petition #MakeMenopauseMatter in Healthcare, Education and the Workplace.
Menopause in the workplace are also involved in raising awareness in the workplace through events and talking to employers recommending ways in which women can talk about their symptoms that may impact upon their work and how to overcome them. Led by Deborah Garlick, her team are changing the way in which employers care for women in their employment who experience menopausal symptoms which can impact upon their physical and mental wellbeing at work.