By Health Coach and Menopause Well-being Practitioner Sally Sidani-Wilkinson from Re-Balance By Sally
75% of women are affected by menopause symptoms which can be severe and debilitating. The stats about women in menopause in the workplace make for shocking reading. One in ten leave their jobs due to these symptoms and a huge 72% of women in menopause feel unsupported at work. What’s more, one in five take time off work to deal with symptoms.
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, yet there is still much stigma and a lack of support from employers. It’s therefore essential that everyone in the workplace understands the signs and symptoms of menopause and the impact they can have on performance. Once you understand these, you can begin to make the workplace menopause friendly and ensure you don’t lose valuable, experienced employees.
What is menopause?
Firstly, it’s important to understand the various stages of menopause, what it is, and the symptoms associated with it. We are not taught about menopause at school and many women still feel ashamed or embarrassed to discuss it.
There are four stages:
- Premenopause years – where women have regular periods.
- Perimenopause – this is when periods begin to change in nature (more frequent or less frequent, shorter or longer, heavier or lighter) and hormones begin to fluctuate and decline. This usually occurs during a woman’s 40s but for some women can be much earlier.
- Menopause – when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months. The average is 51 in the UK but every woman is different.
- Post-menopause – this is where symptoms can continue after menopause, sometimes for more than 10 years.
Although we are using the terms ‘she’ and ‘her’, it’s important to remember that menopause affects everyone with an ovarian system so that’s non-binary and transgender people too.
There are over 40 different symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. They vary from person to person, and can be emotional, physical to psychological.
Menopause symptoms at work
Many of the symptoms of menopause and perimenopause can have a knock-on effect on women at work. These include:
- Lack of sleep – impacting performance, concentration and focus.
Solution: think about a flexible working policy so that the employee can come to work later. Also, consider delegating some of her detailed tasks that day.
- Hot flushes – these impact three-quarters of all women; they can start at any time and can be hugely embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Solution: introduce fans in the workplace or provide a changing room where staff can change clothing if required.
- Mood swings and anxiety – some women start to experience anxiety and panic attacks. Those who were previously strong team players may start to withdraw from group activities and discussions.
Solution: show empathy, offering a quiet and safe space where they can go relax, and do meditation or breathing exercises to manage the anxiety or mood swings. Think about offering well-being initiatives, such as lunchtime yoga classes or subscriptions to meditation or mindfulness apps.
- Brain fog and memory loss – this can affect performance, creativity and productivity.
Solution: encourage staff to take notes in meetings so they can refer back and don’t have to worry about forgetting details. I encourage my clients to constantly stimulate the brain, learning a new skill for example.
- Stress – the menopause transition is a very stressful time of life, elevating cortisol (the stress hormone) levels which negatively impact declining hormones. This triggers menopause symptoms further or makes them worse.
Solution: encourage employees to explore stress management techniques, whether that’s exercise, breathing techniques or meditation. It’s also important to look at the workload and assess whether it’s manageable or contributing to the stress.
What else can we do to support women and make the workplace menopause friendly?
Menopause is a natural part of life and does affect everyone, even if not directly (colleagues, partners, parents, friends). This is why it’s vital everyone has a good understanding of the signs and symptoms. We have seen cases of wrongful dismissal due to poor performance when actually it was down to menopause symptoms. It’s essential we break down the taboos and reduce the stigma surrounding menopause. We need men and women to feel comfortable talking about menopause at home and at work.
There are five steps to creating a menopause friendly workplace:
- Awareness – start normalising conversations about menopause in the workplace so there’s no awkwardness or embarrassment around the subject. We should change the narrative – treat women in menopause with dignity and respect. This shouldn’t be something that should be feared, but something that is celebrated as the next stage of life.
- Education – you can help by providing education within the workplace so that all employees have a true understanding and can support others as they go through the transition. Women in menopause can be supported with education on how to improve their symptoms through nutrition and lifestyle changes.
- Policies – introduce a menopause policy to include things like flexible working, including menopause within workplace risk assessments and other reasonable adjustments that could be made to ensure that the work and workplace do not make menopause symptoms worse. This is a central document that gives employees information about menopause, and useful resources and sets out how your company supports menopause for staff to refer to.
- Make sure support is available – for colleagues going through peri-menopause and menopause, such as having a quiet space available or encouraging exercise in lunch breaks and after-work clubs. Think about offering more frequent breaks for employees who are exhausted from standing all day or have a physically demanding job. Emotional support is important too, think about a buddy scheme if there are a number of women struggling with symptoms. Some businesses have introduced menopause champions who are trained in supporting women experiencing symptoms. Introduce a menopause café which is a safe space where women can share their experiences and seek advice.
- Embed these changes into the company culture – it shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise but intrinsic to the company values. By starting to break down taboos and encouraging open conversations, women will have the confidence to ask for support when they need it and managers will be confident to discuss support options. If you’re in a small business, consider grouping together with other similar-sized businesses to host events. It’s comforting for women to feel that they are not alone.
Start the conversations and don’t let employees suffer in silence. If you create a culture of inclusivity and equality with the right menopause support, you’ll reduce absenteeism, improve retention and attract new female talent. There is much work to be done, but by raising awareness of menopause and starting the conversation we can start to make change happen.
Useful resources for creating a menopause friendly workplace
- ACAS has free fact sheets on managing employees experiencing menopause.
- Balance App – can be helpful for women in tracking symptoms and offers advice on everything from exercise to nutrition.
- CIPD has a free guide for employers.
- See our own guide ‘How to write a menopause policy‘
- Re-balance by Sally – menopause education and support packages and health coaching to improve symptoms for individuals and businesses.
Sally Sidani Wilkinson
Health Coach and Menopause Wellbeing Practitioner, Re-balance by Sally
Sally supports businesses and employees through the menopause journey. She offers group menopause education courses as well as workshops to develop menopause policies and best practices for your workplace.
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