In the UK, 1 in 4 women experience work-affecting symptoms of menopause, with symptoms ranging from hot flushes, mood changes, fatigue and even problems with memory and focus. Menopause is the natural process all women experience where menstruation and fertility stop, normally in middle aged women and those between the ages of 45-55. Menopause occurs as a result of gradual declination in oestrogen levels. The levels of fertility are directly impacted by oestrogen levels, and low oestrogen often is the mechanism which stops further fertility. Awareness groups across the world, and particularly the UK, want to raise awareness of the impact Menopause really can have on women’s professional and personal life. One of the main changes which is desired is a change in narrative and for employers to begin to understand the impact this can have in a workplace. Proposed changes include education, time off work, counselling and supportive changes in shift patterns – all of which are lacking in modern society.
Campaigners are aiming to pass through legislative support – at a governmental level – to support women in law amidst other feminine issues which get more coverage and attention. Many of these legislative changes in the past have been around childcare, pregnancy rights and support – but little thought is given to the end of fertility and the dynamic changes this can have on women. Currently, there is a lack of any counselling, support or referral in the majority of workplaces for women going through the menopause. It is also vital to highlight the mental impact that experiencing the menopause can have on women, especially in those who are suffering severe symptoms. Many women seen by primary doctors for assessment of their menopause symptoms are referred to antidepressant therapy, yet may just need more support and understanding from managers and colleagues.
Surveys commissioned by the Newson clinic reported 9/10 women in a large sample had experienced significant menopause symptoms which had an impact on their daily work, personal life and productivity. This reflects a larger narrative in the neglect of support for women in certain areas of society. This lack of openness or dialogue around an issue which affects most women only further seems to make women experiencing a difficult menopause to feel isolated. A lack of dialogue with management may cause tension around the issue and women may live in fear of mentioning the issue which might have become taboo. Some of the reasoning may be to do with a lack of education of the general public and male management lacking awareness and positioning as, ‘just the menopause’.
But what can a manager do? Managers and directors must bridge the gap with these female specific issues and ensure the menopause is outlined as part of a wider company health scheme. In this light, an open policy may encourage women to come forward and feel heard when they raise the issues menopause is causing them in and out of the workplace. Awareness and education on managing symptoms and what to expect should also be freely available at work or broached in 1-2-1 meetings if managers and the staff feel comfortable. Private disclosure and anonymous reporting may be a safe, effective way of raising any symptoms related to menopause or female specific issues, without exposing the identity of the women involved.
Women must be provided with support on how to obtain guidance for any problems arising from menopause, menstruation or female specific issues. Creating an open environment for the women in teams can reduce stigma and fear of speaking out – particularly if they feel their requests would fall on deaf ears. Women may feel uneasy going to their line manager because of the manner in which our society treats menopause, particularly if it's a man, and other alternatives should be accessible. This could be something as simple as having a go-between designated as a negotiator between staff and senior management.