Marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years, menopause is defined as the day twelve months after the day of a woman’s last period.
Before experiencing menopause, women go through perimenopause. These are the years leading up to menopause when hormones start to decline and menopause symptoms begin. In the UK, the average age for this to happen is between 45-55 - though it can happen much earlier due to genetics, surgery, or cancer treatment, for example.
Whilst every woman will go through menopause, it is important to understand that it is a unique experience for each woman. It is also important to be aware that some trans-men and non-binary people assigned female at birth could experience menopause symptoms.
In this blog, we are going to shed light on the symptoms of menopause, begin to understand the impact of menopause in the workplace and consider what organisations can do to break the taboo.
Symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause
No one person's experience of perimenopause and menopause is identical. With this in mind, it’s important to recognise that as unique individuals, women, trans-men, and non-binary individuals will all experience varying symptoms.
Some may experience symptoms such as hot flushes and anxiety, whilst others may find themselves living with symptoms, including joint pain, chills, brain fog, insomnia, and itching skin.
Although menopause is often related to hot flushes, not everyone has them. And for those who do, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Unbeknown to some, there are actually 33 common symptoms of menopause, as shared by The Menopause Charity.
When it comes to understanding the impact of menopause in the workplace, learning how the different symptoms affect individuals can assist in breaking the taboo. The symptoms can be split into three categories - physical, psychological and vasomotor – which we share more about below.
Physical symptoms include:
Dry eyes and mouth
Heavy and/or irregular bleeding
Lack of energy
Increased urinary tract infections
Fragile bones due to loss of mass
Psychological symptoms include:
Loss of confidence
Loss of interest in things
Feelings of rage
Loss of interest in sex
Feeling unhappy or depressed
Feeling nervous or unsettled
Vasomotor symptoms include:
Inability to regulate body temperature
Constantly feeling hot and sweaty (different to a flush)
The Impact of Menopause in the Workplace
In 2019, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conducted research that found “three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work.” This research also found that 900,000 had left work due to symptoms.
Contributing to this research showing the impact of menopause in the workplace, in July 2022, the Women & Equalities Committee published its report from the Menopause and the Workplace Inquiry. They asked about symptoms, with respondents sharing:
81% had difficulty sleeping. The impact of this in the workplace includes finding it hard to focus, feeling exhausted, and therefore unable to carry out tasks in the same way, exhaustion leading to feeling overly emotional, angry or irritable, all of which can impact colleagues and teams too.
75% reported problems with memory and/or concentration. For many, the impact of this in the workplace might include losing track of progress on a task or project, finding it hard to recall conversations or knowledge, and struggling to stay focused in meetings.
73% said hot flushes and night sweats. The impact of this in the workplace includes embarrassment and feeling uncomfortable. The hot flush can cause women to completely lose their train of thought as it’s so intense. Some feel panic or overwhelm as they experience the hot flush. Night sweats interfere with good sleep, the impact of which we discussed above.
69% suffered anxiety or depression. This can impact performance, self-belief, motivation and confidence. Anxiety can be crippling, leading to the person being unable to function in the way they once did. People lose their joy, sense of value and purpose,
92% said these symptoms affected them at work. The brutal truth of this is, as the stats show, women stepping back, to the side, or out of the workforce completely.
In addition to the above, The Fawcett Society found that 1 in 10 women have left work due to symptoms.
“Mapped on to the UK population that would represent an estimated 333,000 women leaving their jobs due to the menopause.”
Tasha’s Story - A Real Case Study
Tasha, now in her late 40s, reflected back on her recent career and realised the impact menopause has had.
Over approximately 5 years, from the age of 42, she elected to take jobs with lesser responsibility, and her career path dropped off a cliff. It started as symptoms began to creep up and undermine her.
She found communication hard, brain fog meant she couldn’t read documents and absorb their content, and she didn’t understand why her brain wasn’t doing what it had always done before! She got to the point where she felt she couldn’t be who she was before in her role, and her self-confidence took a big hit.
She describes how she felt overly emotional, and everything became overwhelming. This resulted in her stepping out of the workforce for over a year. When she went to the GP, they put the symptoms down to other things and never suggested menopause. Because she didn’t have the classic hot flushes and was still menstruating, she had no idea it was menopause either.
Tasha’s organisation not only lost her, but they also lost her expertise and experience. She lost a year of working life and around four years of earning at her full potential. She also lost her self-confidence, value and purpose.
Rebuilding financial losses is arguably hard; rebuilding confidence and a sense of self is much harder. Only now that she is accessing the right medical help (HRT) and support is she back to work, working at the level she was at prior to being 42 and enjoying life again.
What Can Employers Do To Reduce the Impact of Menopause in the Workplace?
Tasha has said that if there had been a simple menopause awareness poster in the toilets at work when she was going through it, she might have realised it was menopause and not her.
Here are some initial steps workplaces can take to begin to break the taboo and ease the impact of menopause in the workplace.
Have information available to all about menopause, e.g. a poster. It’s a simple way of raising awareness, and it might just prevent a person from leaving their job role. As many workplaces are now hybrid, having information in the office alone is not enough, as many people won't be working on-site. For workplaces that offer hybrid or remote working opportunities, it's worth using different approaches to ensure everyone can access information. For example, you could have posters in the office and a banner on the homepage of your intranet that allows employees to click to find out more. You could also communicate via your internal newsletters.
Be prepared to listen. Women talk about feeling ‘invisible’ when they get to mid-life. Listening to understand demonstrates they matter, that what they have to say matters and helps them feel valued. It will also increase the listeners' understanding.
Run awareness sessions for everyone. Everyone is affected by menopause, it’s not just women. As a man, you may be in a partnership with a woman going through menopause, you may line manage women going through it, or you may have family members going through it. Knowledge brings crucial understanding, empathy and support. It helps men as much as women as those light bulbs flick on!
Train line managers so they feel confident to have sensitive conversations. We don’t know what we don’t know. The impact of symptoms can creep up, and the narrative becomes about performance and absence rather than a medical condition that is having a negative impact. Equipping line managers with the right information and increasing their understanding will give them the confidence to have the conversation if and when it comes up.
Know where to signpost people so they can access good, trustworthy advice and information. Develop a resource library or guidelines document within your organisation that is accessible to all with links to credible websites, book recommendations (have books at work!), support groups, and credible information sources.
This is as complex an issue for workplaces to navigate as it is for those experiencing it. However, the data cannot be ignored: if we want to recruit and retain talent and experience, organisations need to recognise the importance of addressing menopause at work for the benefit of all.
Tasha’s story highlights the insidious impact of symptom creep and is surely repeated in the 330,000 women who left the workforce citing symptoms, as the Fawcett Society found.
Making simple changes and investing in education and training for all so menopause is understood can only be beneficial in the long run. By doing so, we are breaking the taboo and doing what we can to reduce the impact of menopause in the workplace.
Contact Us Today
If you're ready to take action in your business and provide menopause coaching or workshops to your people, contact us today by calling 0800 345 7727 or emailing Zoe@theleadershipcoaches.co.uk to find out how we can support you.
Written by The Leadership Coaches specialist menopause coach Jo.