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Menopause: raising awareness in the workplace

Published by Safety Net Team

November 29, 2022

Menopause: raising awareness in the workplace
Treating women as equal to men does not mean treating the two sexes the same. Women are different biologically and this may need to be taken into account at work. Gordon Tranter investigates how the menopause can affect women’s health in the workplace and suggests how employers can provide support to enable women to continue to work comfortably and productively during this time.

Millions of women workers
The menopause is a natural stage of life that millions of women workers are either experiencing now or will go through in the future. There are around 4.3 million women over the age of 50 currently working in Britain and consequently an increasing number of women of menopausal age are working in the UK. Many women workers leave their jobs through lack of support during this difficult period in their lives. Positively managing the menopause at work can help employers to retain valued staff.
It is important to note that while this article predominantly talks about women in relation to the menopause, it is also recognised and appreciated that the menopause can impact trans and non-binary people who don’t identify as women in the same manner.
Menopause can be experienced by trans masculine presenting individuals, and non-binary identified people may retain female anatomical features at this stage of their lives. They require the same support, flexibility and dignity in the workplace as others with similar symptoms.
The losses
The Menopause and the Workplace report by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, which polled 4000 women aged 45–55, found that 10% had left their job because of symptoms of the menopause. This was interpreted as to 333,000 women across the UK leaving work as a consequence of menopause.
A survey of 2000 employees and 500 business owners by Benenden Health found 23% of women who have been unwell as a result of the menopause have left jobs.
Symptoms
The menopause is marked by changes in hormones and the end of menstruation (when a woman’s periods stop for 12 consecutive months). For most women the menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, although a minority of women can experience it in their 30s or earlier. The symptoms can last from four to eight years.
While some women experience almost no symptoms, the majority do experience significant changes, such as hot flushes, palpitations, night sweats and sleep disturbance, fatigue, concentration loss, memory loss, irritability, skin irritation, depression and loss of confidence. Urinary problems may also occur during the menopause, and many women have recurrent lower urinary tract infections, such as cystitis. It is common for the need to pass urine to arise urgently or more often.
As such, menopausal symptoms can prove embarrassing for some women, making them reluctant to discuss the issue openly. Working with male colleagues can increase the level of embarrassment and discomfort, eg during hot flushes.
Hot flushes are a major source of distress for many women at work. The symptoms can be exacerbated by working in hot and poorly ventilated environments. Hot flushes can cause embarrassment or other difficulties in relationships with colleagues or clients and can make it more difficult to cope with formal meetings, and high visibility work such as formal presentations.
Women affected by menopausal symptoms are reported to feel less confident. Some women suspect the menopause has a negative impact on their managers’ and colleagues’ perceptions of their competence at work and feel anxious about these perceived performance deficits. Their performance can suffer and situations which would normally have been dealt with easily become more difficult.

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