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The Menopause Exchange Blog

THE MENOPAUSE AT WORK

Women usually experience the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with 51 being the average age in the UK. The employment rate in the UK has grown substantially for women aged 50 to 64 in recent years.  With around 75% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms, which last on average for four to eight years (and sometimes up to ten years), it’s not surprising that the menopause can have a significant effect on women’s working lives.

This article was included in issue 80 (spring 2019) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Symptom trouble
The menopausal symptoms most likely to affect working women are hot flushes, night sweats (leading to insomnia and daytime tiredness) and a lack of concentration, causing problems with making decisions. Other symptoms that could affect work include headaches, aches and pains, palpitations, low mood, memory loss, brain fog, irritability, anxiety, depression, needing to go to the loo regularly and period problems.

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 which options may help, including telling them to see their GP and contacting The Menopause Exchange for advice. We also 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 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 and low mood.

The menopause often comes at a time when other changes may be taking place in a woman’s life, such as those involving friends and relationships. Some of these may affect her 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 2017, Professor Myra Hunter, Professor Amanda Griffiths and Dr Claire Hardy, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at Kings College London and the Division of Psychiatry & Applied Psychology at the University of Nottingham, conducted research into ‘What do working menopausal women want?’ Their survey revealed that the menopause can be difficult for some women at work and many women want: (1) better knowledge and understanding of the menopause; (2) good employer and manager communication skills and behaviours; and (3) more helpful and supportive policies.

The workplace can affect a woman’s experience of the menopause in several ways. Issues that may need looking into include:

  • sharing offices
  • working in fixed positions
  • 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
  • flexible working hours
  • having access to cold drinking water
  • needing regular toilet breaks, which may cause problems if working to set targets or deadlines
  • wearing synthetic or tight uniforms that can increase sweating

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

Making changes at work may lead to fewer days off work, 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 women cope with troublesome menopausal symptoms. If there’s 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 for them to go to the human resources department, a welfare officer or health and safety advisors.

Managers, health and safety officers and also colleagues need to know all of the health implications of the menopause. Employers should include the menopause in a health and safety policy and in risk assessments or guidance because they need to make sure that working conditions don’t worsen a woman’s symptoms. Managers may benefit from formal training to enable them to take the menopause seriously and so that they can offer the necessary adjustments to a woman’s working environment.

Women helping themselves
Women shouldn’t be embarrassed to bring up the topic of the menopause at work. This will help to reduce the stigma of the menopause and make sure work colleagues know about menopausal symptoms (including what hot flushes are) and its impact on all aspects of life.

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 including those responsible for the wellbeing of employees, 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, and coping with symptoms using self-help lifestyle tips, HRT, prescribed medicines alternatives to HRT, complementary therapies and medicine and nutrition. 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 May 2019

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