Menopause is a natural phase of every woman’s life, but unfortunately there is still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms, and the impacts they can have on everyday life.
World Menopause Day is held on 18th October each year. It aims to raise awareness of the symptoms of menopause and provide information about the support available to those who need it. To mark the event and encourage open conversations and better support in the workplace, we share information about how menopausal symptoms can affect careers, employers' obligations and ways to support menopausal employees, and how people struggling with symptoms can manage them at work.
Menopausal symptoms and workplace impacts
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, but symptoms can significantly affect on overall well-being, including careers.
A recent survey carried out by the British Menopause Society found that 45% of women felt menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work, and 47% who needed to take time off work due to symptoms said they didn’t tell their employer the real reason.
Another survey by the Fawcett Society in 2022 found that one in 10 women who worked during menopause have left a job due to their symptoms, and that only two out of 10 had been provided with any information, staff training, or menopause absence policies by their employer.
Menopausal and perimenopausal side effects can be cognitive, physical, or psychological, and their severity varies widely from person to person, but some of the most common symptoms and the impacts they can have at work are:
Sleep disturbances: Insomnia due to night sweats or other symptoms can lead to fatigue, reduced concentration, and lower productivity during the workday.
Hot flushes: This symptom, also known as hot flashes, causes a sudden heat that spreads over the face and body, leading to flushing and sweating. This can cause discomfort and make it difficult to concentrate, and many find them disruptive and embarrassing.
Memory lapses or cognitive changes: Memory lapses and difficulties concentrating, often described as feeling like brain fog, can affect work performance, lead to mistakes, and reduce productivity.
Mood swings and emotional changes: Mood swings, irritability, and emotional changes can make it challenging to maintain professional relationships and handle workplace stress. This may also have an impact on colleagues, creating a wider organizational issue.
Urinary problems: Frequent urination or urinary incontinence can be inconvenient during the workday, requiring more frequent bathroom breaks.
Physical symptoms: Physical symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, and headaches can lead to discomfort, making it challenging to sit or stand for long periods.
Menopause and the law
It’s important for employers to understand their obligation to support employees going through menopause, how the menopause relates to the laws in their country, and why processes and support are needed to help affected employees.
While the menopause itself is not a protected characteristic under employment and discrimination law, if an employee is treated unfairly due to their menopausal symptoms it could be classed as discrimination if related to protected characteristics, such as age, sex, gender reassignment, or disability.
For example, in the USA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect women against discrimination based on gender and disability. Across Europe, the United Kingdom’s Equality Act 2010 protects women from workplace discrimination based on their sex, including any adverse treatment related to menopause. Germany's Maternity Protection Act also applies to women experiencing menopausal symptoms, and French employment law recognizes women’s rights to reasonable accommodations during menopause.
While laws regarding menopause and the workplace vary widely throughout Asia and the Middle East and are still evolving, some countries, like Japan, have recognized the need for legal protections against menopause-related discrimination and have implemented specific policies.
How can companies support their employees through menopause?
As discussed, menopause can bring a wide range of physical and emotional challenges, but according to a survey by Acas, one in three employers do not feel well equipped to support women through menopause.
Here are some effective strategies companies can take to provide support for employees through this phase of life, but remember that the experience of menopause varies from person to person, so it's important to take an individualized approach to care for employees:
Create a menopause policy that sets out your company’s response to employees experiencing menopausal symptoms. This may include definitions, information about the support and working adjustments available, and a point of contact for assistance. Not only will this provide a clear pathway and source of reassurance, but it will also help to prevent workplace discrimination.
Review private healthcare options for your employees that offer dedicated menopause support services, personalized care plans, prescriptions, or onward referrals.
Educate your workforce about the signs and symptoms of perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause, advising them of any policies in place and how they can be empathetic and supportive to affected employees.
Provide a comfortable working environment, such as a quiet space for rest, adjustable temperatures, allow for frequent breaks, or provide ergonomic desk adjustments.
Offer flexible working arrangements where possible, such as adjusted work hours, remote or hybrid work options, or compressed workweeks to accommodate varying energy levels and health concerns during menopause.
Encourage communication and normalize conversations, so employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and challenges, and can receive the help and resources they need.
Managing the symptoms of menopause at work
The range of symptoms that menopause presents can be challenging to manage, especially in a professional setting. However, with the right self-care practices, it is possible to manage these symptoms while continuing to excel at work:
Seek medical guidance: If your symptoms are severe and affecting your daily life and work, consult a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance on treatment options, such as hormone therapy or other medications.
Tell your employer: Don't suffer in silence. Open and honest communication with your manager, HR department, or colleagues can make a significant difference. Discuss your needs and challenges, and work together to find reasonable accommodations.
Prioritize self-care: Self-care is crucial during menopause, as it can boost your overall well-being and even help to alleviate symptoms. Ensure you are eating a balanced diet, staying well-hydrated, and getting plenty of sleep.
Stay active: Regular exercise can help to alleviate symptoms like insomnia and physical discomfort - even a short walk during your lunch break can make a difference. Many people find that yoga is effective for improving both physical and emotional menopausal symptoms.
Dress comfortably: Dressing in layers can help manage hot flushes. Wear natural, breathable fabrics, and keep a small or handheld fan at your desk for quick relief.
Support network: Seek support from both colleagues and friends who may have been through or are also going through menopause. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can be empowering and reassuring.
If you would like further guidance on supporting your employees or managing menopausal symptoms, the following resources may be helpful:
Menopause hub - Office of Women's Health. Detailed advice on menopausal symtoms and treatment options
Health and wellbeing conversations - NHS. In-depth guidance for managers holding sensitive discussions around health.
Let's Talk Menopause. A nonprofit company offering programs, talks, and resources to raise awareness around menopause and help women get the information they need.
Menopause at work: Guide for people managers - CIPD. A practical guide explaining how line managers can support employees through menopause.
The link between menopause and gender inequity at work. A TED Talk about how menopause symptoms impact work, and how organizations can create a menopause-friendly work culture.
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