According to the Menopause Charity, one in 10 women have quit their jobs, and an estimated 14 million working days are lost annually to effects of menopause symptoms. So what can we do about it?
It was the hushed taboo of our parents’ generation, despite the fact that half the world’s population goes through it. Thankfully, these days, discussion about the menopause is far more open.
With a long list of possible symptoms, including hot flushes, heart palpitations, and painful joints, as well as brain fog, depression, and loss of confidence, it’s no wonder women’s working lives are affected. So, is there a better way to live harmoniously and productively with menopause at work?
Experiencing the symptoms of menopause is hard enough to handle at the best of times. Let alone trying to navigate all these changes in the workplace. Yet this is the reality for many women in work environments all over the world today.
What might this look like?
Most women experience menopause symptoms at some point in their life. This typically occurs between ages 45 to 55, but can be earlier or later. And BUPA have reported that women of menopausal age are the fastest growing demographic in the UK workforce.
Jo Fuller, menopause coach and founder of The Merry Menopause, explains how menopause symptoms might affect women in the workplace, and poor sleep is one of the big issues.
“A disturbed night’s sleep can have a huge impact on someone’s working day, as can brain fog and anxiety, all these can affect concentration and performance,” she explains.
With as many as one in four women saying their symptoms have caused a severe impact on their work, in a study carried out by Nuffield Health, it’s time we started to embrace better ways of working.
Listen to your body
In some cases, symptoms are so severe that women feel they have to leave their place of employment. The same BUPA research indicates nearly one million women have left their jobs due to menopause. Others have taken a long leave of absence from work to try to manage their symptoms.
Fuller says “Educate yourself on your menopause and how to manage your symptoms. We are designed to experience menopause; our body knows what to do, we just need to support it.
“From my own experience and the experiences of my clients, I believe that we need three things: education, support, and connection.”
Fuller recommends a few things to help manage your symptoms. “Do you have a good nightly routine to help you sleep better? Are you aware of food and drinks that play havoc with your sleep or exacerbate anxiety or brain fog? Do you notice the benefit of exercise on your mood and wellbeing?”
Taking simple steps to listen to your body and give it some love and attention will definitely help. It’s also worth checking with your GP to see if you might be suitable for supplements, or even HRT.
Are you a man, or a younger woman?
The effects of menopause symptoms at work is not just an issue for the women experiencing it. Colleagues and employers may be affected by this, and it can only help if everyone is educated. This can directly or indirectly impact others in the work environment.
For men, and those not of menopause age, Fuller has advice to ease things for your colleagues who might be experiencing menopause. And again, it’s around having a good understanding of what is going on.
“Listen, and not try to problem-solve,” she suggests. “Get a basic education on menopause. You don’t have to be an expert, but understanding what your colleagues are experiencing will help you to have empathy and understanding.”
Laying down the law
Currently, there is no specific legislation specifying sick days or support for menopause. However, employees are protected under the 2010 Equality Act, ensuring no one is discriminated against based on sex or age. Therefore, women are protected from any kind of dismissal over their menopause symptoms.
Additionally, the Health and Safety Work Act, 1974 states that employers, where reasonably practical, must ensure everyone’s health, safety, and welfare at work.
Despite this legislative protection, and increased discussion of menopause in the media, the Faculty of Occupational Medicines still found that the majority of women aren’t willing to disclose menopause health related issues with their manager.
This suggests more of an open culture around menopause in the workplace is needed. Understanding the barriers women can face in menopause, as Fuller says, and managers signposting support for employees.
The Menopause Workplace Pledge, set up by Wellbeing of Women, asks organisations to commit to making menopause less of an issue in the workplace. Over 2,000 employers have signed the pledge so far, including organisations like Royal Mail and the BBC (and Just Group!).
The pledge includes: (1) Recognising that menopause in the workplace can be an issue and women need support. (2) Talking openly, honestly, and respectively about menopause. (3) Actively support and inform employees who are affected by menopause.
It’s time to stop treating menopause like the private taboo subject of traditional values. We’re living longer, working longer, and experiencing more. Menopause shouldn’t be an enemy to our work life and career progression.
Being more open and understanding will help shift attitudes, and hopefully prevent any woman from feeling they have to leave the workplace over their menopause, and instead be empowered by it.
Visit The Merry Menopause for more advice, and coaching from Menopause Coach, Jo Fuller.
Menopause is a change that takes time to adapt to, but if you are really struggling with menopause or perimenopausal symptoms, don’t be afraid to speak to a healthcare professional.