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Menopause in the workplace - the final taboo?

To mark International Women’s Day 2020 we invited our partner Nicki Williams to share her insights on the important topic of menopause in the workplace.

Menopause In The Workplace - The Final Taboo?

Issues relating to women in the workplace are rightly rising to the top of the corporate and political agenda - whether that be how to deal with issues relating to the pay gap, how to ensure appropriate balance on your board, or how to handle claims of harassment, discrimination or bullying. One issue that has not, as yet, attracted a huge amount of attention is the impact that menopause has on female workers. 

How big is the problem?

There are over 5 million women aged 40-55 in the UK in the workplace and about 80% of them will suffer some symptoms of menopause that will negatively impact on their performance and career potential. The latest Government Equalities Office Report estimates that women aged 50 and over are by far the fastest-growing group of workers in the British economy.

Interesting research was published by Professor Amanda Griffiths from Nottingham University in 2013, they surveyed 900 women between 45-55. The study concluded “Appropriate support from employers is essential. It is likely to reduce the risk of stress, help maintain performance, enhance employee loyalty and facilitate continued participation in the workforce.”

In her 2015 report to the government titled ‘A new vision for older workers’, Dr Ros Altmann CBE, commented that menopause is still largely ignored in workplace thinking, and that there is little support for women going through this phase of their lives. One of her conclusions was ‘if performance were affected by symptoms that could be attributed to a different medical condition, there would be far more acceptance and allowances made.”

In 2014, Nuffield Health undertook a survey of over 3000 women aged between 40-65. Over half said they were depressed, more than a third suffered anxiety, and over 72% of female workers having symptoms said they felt unsupported at work. 1 in 10 had considered leaving their job and almost half the women surveyed did not know their symptoms could be due to the menopause – citing that they were too young or too stressed. 

What exactly is menopause?

Actually, we need to be talking about ‘peri-menopause’ as this is the transition period that runs up to the final menopause when your periods stop. Symptoms can start from around the age of 35 (when your ovarian reserve starts to decline) and last until your 50’s – and often beyond that!  Symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, weight gain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, hot flushes, night sweats, PMS, digestive issues and more.

How does it affect women’s performance?

  • Absenteeism - women are more likely to take a sick day if they’re feeling exhausted, they haven’t slept well, they have hot flushes or bad PMS, or they’re feeling anxious or depressed. 
  • Stress - women can be less resilient to stress at this age. According to the Health & Safety Executive in 2015, midlife women report more work related stress than other groups.
  • Brain fog and memory loss – this can severely hamper productivity, creativity and problem solving.
  • Mood swings and irritability – this can affect relationships at work. Someone who may have been very sociable can suddenly become isolated and not a great team player.
  • Loss of confidence - symptoms can cause formerly highly competent women to become insecure and lose confidence in their ability to lead and manage client and colleague relationships.
  • Less coping skills - women may feel they just aren’t able to cope.
  • Feelings of anxiety and or depression can reduce motivation and make a woman want to withdraw.
  • Hot flushes – a woman suffering hot flushes may be much less likely to participate in meetings or discussions. And if a woman feels embarrassed or unable to ask for support then that can add to problems of communication and trust.

What are the solutions?

The best way to manage menopause in the workplace to reduce the impact on both the female employee and her performance is to focus on two key areas; education and practical support.

Education - It is important to educate and empower individuals and line managers about menopause, the symptoms to look out for and how best to manage them. This involves areas such as nutrition, stress, sleep, exercise, environment, supplements, and treatment options.

Practical Support - Alongside access to education around menopause, organisations should look at providing practical solutions in the workplace, including access to good nutrition options, encouraging movement, flexible working options, stress management at work (meditation, yoga etc), a support network to encourage open discussion, environment control (temperature, ventilation, desk top fans, cold drinking water), and access to a quiet room can be very helpful. Introducing menopause in the workplace policies, and other best practice, is straightforward and something all responsible companies should be considering. As the United Nation’s Secretary-General has stated “There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous”.

If you want the women in your workforce to thrive with your support; if you want to be seen as a desirable, forward-thinking employer; and if you want to attract and retain the highest calibre of female recruits to your business - then there has never been a better time to explore what your company could be doing to support female employees before, during and after menopause. 


Nicki Williams

After failing to find any medical help for her health issues herself in her early 40’s, Nicki discovered that she could turn things around using diet, lifestyle and natural supplements. She is now an award winning nutritionist, author, speaker and a leading expert in women’s health and hormones. She is the founder of Happy Hormones for Life, helping women of all ages to rebalance their hormones, reclaim their health and feel better than ever.

Check out the 5* star reviews for her book on AmazonIt’s not you, it’s your hormones; The essential guide for women over 40 to fight fat, fatigue and hormone havoc.

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