In the UK, it is reported that 1 in 4 females experience life and work-affecting symptoms of the menopause, including hot flushes, mood changes, fatigue and problems with concentration and focus. Menopause is the natural process whereby menstruation and fertility decline, eventually reaching cessation between the ages of 45-55. This occurs due to declines in oestrogen levels which normally permit reproduction. Campaigners in the UK want similar flexibility, awareness and legislation to protect women experiencing a difficult menopause to allow for time off work, counselling and changes in shift patterns, something currently not addressed in the current system.
Proponents of legislative support – now lobbying MPs and government – state that the great improvements in pregnancy support and awareness has given strength to those women bearing children. However, there is a lack of any support or rehabilitative mechanisms in most workplaces for women going through the menopause, despite the quite drastic effects this change can have not only on a woman’s body, but her mental health too. 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.
A shocking survey taken by the Newson clinic reported nearly 95% of over 1000 women surveyed had experienced significant menopause symptoms, enough to significantly affect their work and performance. Moreover, over 50% of these women’s colleagues had noticed a detriment to their performance. Herein exists a large ‘hole’ in the legislative support of older women, currently failed by a system which already has issues with ageism and sexism. Potentially, the women affected by menopause may live in fear of mentioning the issue which might of become taboo, with inadequate awareness by men and other non-symptomatic women who believe it to be ‘just the menopause’. This change comes as MPs are now demanding specific menopause policies to be written into UK legislation.
But what can a manager do? Employers should make sure that issues such as the menopause are highlighted as part of a wider public health schema, so that all staff know the employer has a positive mechanism in place for menopause absence and that it is not something women should feel embarrassed about. Guidance on how to deal with the menopause should also be freely available at work. Another issue to be aware of, particularly in relation to female specific workplace issues is how the problems are reported, and if the women feel empowered enough to do so.
Females in a workplace should be provided with data on how to obtain assistance for any problems arising from menopause. Many females will 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.
At Working Well, we use educational materials for staff and managers, as well as talking to employees and women currently going through issues and ask what would make their experience easier. We have trialled techniques such as disclosure services and having a neutral colleague to communicate through, which can take away some of the embarrassment which can be felt around the topic. We have also found that attitudes to menopause can change amongst management in the workplace once fully informed of the real-world impacts this can have on a woman’s mental and physical health, and work performance.