With growing numbers of working women over the age of 50 in the UK, it’s time to make menopause work in the workplace
Written by Madeleine Bailey on December 27, 2018
Reviewed by Dr Louise Newson on January 6, 2019
The menopause isn’t just about night sweats and a few hot flushes. Lesser known symptoms include memory problems, brain fog, poor concentration, anxiety and insomnia,1 which can all affect your performance at work.
And with more than 3.5 million working women over 50 in the UK,2 the menopause is fast becoming a serious issue in the workplace. Here’s how to deal with the challenges it brings.
How could the menopause affect my job?
Dr Louise Newson, GP and menopause specialist (menopausedoctor.co.uk), advises organisations on the potential impact of the menopause at work. She says, ‘Research shows that menopausal symptoms have led women to take time off work, reduce their hours and even leave their job because they feel unable to cope.’ This can have an impact on your self-confidence – and your career.
‘One of the problems is that menopause is still a taboo subject. It’s either treated as a source of embarrassment or a bit of a joke, and there’s a general lack of awareness about the full range of symptoms, even among women themselves,’ says Dr Newson.
The result? Women can be misdiagnosed by their GP with anxiety or depression, or even face disciplinary procedures at work. This not only means they aren’t receiving the support they need, but their employers are losing out on the talent and potential of some of their most experienced staff.
Why the menopause at work matters
With lifespan and the retirement age rising, this is an issue that isn’t going away – more and more women will go through the menopause while at work. Most women go through the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, and symptoms can last for anything from four to 12 years (or longer still in some women)3 – that’s a long time to keep schtum at your desk.
A 2017 government review into how the menopause affects women at work found that many are afraid to speak up because they felt colleagues would be unsympathetic, or treat them badly.4 The report concluded by recommending that organisations and employers introduce menopause policies to help educate staff and provide essential support to women going through menopause, similar to pregnancy and maternity policies.5
There is already some legal protection under the 2010 Equality Act. Failing to support women who are experiencing menopause symptoms could amount to discrimination on grounds of gender, age or disability.6
In 2012, an employment tribunal found in favour of a woman who accused her employer, BT, of failing to deal with her menopausal symptoms of stress and poor concentration in the same way it would have dealt with those symptoms if they were caused by a different condition in a man. Since then, other similar, successful claims have followed.7
So, what can you do to help make your menopause at work a more positive experience?
Five ways to manage the menopause at work
1. Learn about the full range of menopause symptoms you may experience and ways to deal with them. These could be lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, HRT, herbal remedies or counselling. Browsing health websites such as the NHS, Menopause Matters and Women’s Health Concern may be helpful too.
2. Ask if your employer has a menopause policy. ‘Even if there’s nothing official, your employer has responsibility for your health and safety at work. And if your symptoms are affecting your work, it’s important to let them know as you would with any medical issue,’ says Dr Newson. Are you the boss? Your menopause symptoms may have an impact on colleagues, clients or employees, so you should discuss the issue with them, too.
3. Think about what practical changes would help at work: access to cold water, more toilet breaks, desk fans, or flexible working hours when symptoms such as joint pains or fatigue make it hard to focus on your job. The Faculty of Occupational Medicine has a great series of guidelines with lots of suggestions for menopause-related issues.8
4. Adopt various self-help measures such as taking more notes to compensate for memory problems, or dressing in layers so it’s easier to adjust your temperature during a hot flush.9
5. Seek support. Talk to colleagues also going through the menopause; you could even set up a ‘menopause café’ at work. If you feel you’re being treated unfairly because of your menopause symptoms, consult Acas (see below) for free legal advice.10
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. NHS. Menopause symptoms. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/symptoms/
2. My Menopause Doctor. Menopause and work. Available from: https://www.menopausedoctor.co.uk/menopause/menopause-work-often-not-good-combination
3. As Source 1
4. Gov.uk. Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/menopause-transition-effects-on-womens-economic-participation
5. BBC News. Employers urged to ‘normalise’ menopause in the workplace. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42656070
6. HR Grapevine. The menopause and the Equality Act: why it pays to provide support. Available from: https://www.hrgrapevine.com/content/article/insight-2018-01-29-the-menopause-and-the-equality-act-why-it-pays-to-provide-support
7. Henpicked. Menopause tribunals: what can employers learn? Available from: https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk/employment-law/tribunals-employers-best-practice/
8. Society of Occupational Medicine. Guidance on menopause and the workplace. Available from: https://www.som.org.uk/sites/som.org.uk/files/Guidance-on-menopause-and-the-workplace.pdf
9. As Source 7
10. Acas. Managing older workers: a report for Acas. Available from: http://m.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/f/i/Managing-older-workers-a-report-for-acas.pdf