The Menopause Exchange Blog

THE MENOPAUSE AT WORK

Women usually experience the menopause between 45 and 55, with 51 being the average age. Since the employment rate in the UK has grown substantially for women aged between 50 and 64, and 80% of women experience menopausal symptoms, it’s not surprising that the menopause can have a significant effect on a woman’s working life.

Symptom trouble

The symptoms most likely to affect working women are hot flushes, night sweats (leading to insomnia) and a lack of concentration. This can lead to difficulties in making decisions. Other important symptoms affecting work are joint pains, frequent urination, period problems, mood swings, irritability, anxiety and depression.

Carole Davies, occupational health advisor, says: “Mood swings and irritability aren’t always understood by colleagues.” Maria Goldby, senior occupational advisor, says: “We often have employees referred to us who are suffering with hot flushes and night sweats. Hot flushes often affect them at work. Night sweats causing fatigue the next day and hot flushes can lead to changes in their confidence and a lack of concentration. We see them to discuss what options may help them, including telling them to see their GP and contacting The Menopause Exchange for advice. We give overall support.”

Stress effects

Stress at work can make some menopausal symptoms worse. The effects of this can be increased by having to make decisions about how to cope with the menopause and taking extra time off work to consult a doctor. Some women who take time off work won’t attribute it to the menopause when giving a reason for their absence (unlike if they suffered, for example, from asthma, diabetes or arthritis).

Older working women may feel that they’re in competition with younger colleagues. This can lead to a loss of self-esteem. “Increasingly, women are working to a later age and need to look their best in the workplace,” says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting.

The menopause comes at a time when social changes may also be taking place in a woman’s life. Some of these changes may affect the menopausal symptoms. In addition, women may belong to the sandwich generation, having to juggle elderly relatives, children and even grandchildren. Because they work, more coping mechanisms come into play.

Menopause at work

In 2010, Professor Amanda Griffiths, deputy director of the Institute of Work, Health and Organisations, University of Nottingham, completed a research study for the British Occupational Health Research Foundation, looking at the experiences of more than 900 working women. The report found that the menopause is treated as a taboo subject in many workplaces, and more needs to be done to support women. However, some women were very appreciative of the help they had received from their colleagues and managers.

The workplace can affect a woman’s experience of the menopause in several ways. Issues that need to be addressed include:

    • sharing offices
    • being able to position a desk near a window that can be opened
    • sitting away from a radiator
    • having adjustable temperature and humidity controls in the room
    • being able to use electric fans
    • having a lack of ventilation in the work environment
    • having access to cold drinking water
    • needing regular or frequent toilet breaks, which may cause problems if working to set targets and deadlines
    • wearing synthetic uniforms that cause increased sweating.

Workplaces vary, and the situation in an office will differ from that in schools, hospitals, the police, fire brigade etc. Shift work can cause additional problems.

Interventions may reduce absenteeism and maximise productivity, reduce stigma and embarrassment when women are in the company of colleagues, managers and clients, improve job satisfaction and wellbeing and make the workplace environment as comfortable as possible for menopausal women.

Help at work

The workplace needs to be proactive in helping menopausal women cope with their symptoms. For example, impartial information should be available to all female employees. Some workplaces will employ an occupational health advisor, who can speak to women in confidence and offer one-to-one advice. For this reason, occupational health nurses need to ensure that they have up-to-date and impartial information on all aspects of the menopause. Then they will be able to provide answers to some of the questions that employees may ask and help women make well-informed decisions.

If there is no occupational health department, women may find it difficult to speak to their line manager (especially someone who is male and younger than them). If this is the case, it may be more appropriate to go to the human resources department, a welfare officer or health and safety advisors.

Health and safety representatives and managers need to know about all of the health implications of the menopause. Employers should include the menopause in a health and safety policy and in risk assessments because they need to make sure that the working conditions don’t worsen a woman’s symptoms.

 Women helping themselves

Women can raise awareness at work to reduce the stigma of the menopause and make sure that work colleagues know about the menopause and, for example, what hot flushes are.

Get help from The Menopause Exchange

Norma Goldman has a pharmacy degree and is a qualified health promotion specialist. She presents talks on the menopause to employees in the workplace, organisations, companies and groups of women. She also presents podcasts and has spoken at exhibitions and conferences. Norma’s in-depth knowledge has helped 1000s of women enjoy a more comfortable menopause.

The presentations are suitable for women at or approaching the menopause, those who have had a premature menopause/hysterectomy or those interested in midlife and post-menopausal health. The information includes general information on the menopause and menopausal symptoms, current guidelines on the use of HRT and other ways of coping with symptoms, including self-help lifestyle measures, health promotion advice including nutrition and exercise, prescribed medicine alternatives to HRT and complementary therapies and medicines. Norma also presents seminars on the menopause to healthcare professionals.

The Menopause Exchange is completely independent and the information given is impartial and practical. For more information or testimonials of previous presentations in the workplace, call Norma at The Menopause Exchange on 020 8420 7245 or email her at norma@menopause-exchange.co.uk.

About the author

Norma Goldman (B.Pharm MRPharmsS. MSc.) has a pharmacy degree and an MSc degree in health promotion. She is the founder and director of The Menopause Exchange.

Created March 2017

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