Approximately half of the UK workforce (47%) is made up of women aged 50 years or older. With around two-thirds of women aged 50 to 59 in employment, these women will be experiencing the menopause or have been through it.  The menopause is part of the aging process. It is not a medical disease and it can have a significant impact on psychological well-being, physical health, cognition and social implications on the working lives of women.

Many managers are unaware of the many physical symptoms of the menopause which might affect a woman’s well-being at work. Menopausal symptoms most likely to affect women include hot flushes (70% of women suffer from them for one year, 30% for five years and 5% – 10% for 10 to 15 years), palpitations, night sweats and sleep disturbance, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability and mood disturbance.  These working women may also have to care for frail and aging parents, look after their own family, experience changes in health and changes in their relationships.

The Working through the Change study conducted by the TUC (2003) surveyed 500 safety representatives on menopausal issues. Symptoms attributed to the menopause made worse by work were hot flushes, headaches and tiredness. Workplace temperature and poor ventilation also made symptoms worse.  Employers should have a duty of care to reduce the stigma and embarrassment when women are in the company of work colleagues. By supporting working women experiencing the menopause employers can reduce absenteeism, maximise productivity and make the workplace environment as comfortable as possible.

Women are now working longer and we are in a new world of work incorporating the fourth generation. Up until recently the menopause has been regarded as a private matter and women have felt unable to discuss menopausal issues. Research suggests that many women in the workplace find it extremely difficult to discuss menopausal issues with their line manager or supervisor. Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, tiredness and anxiety may have a significant impact on occupational health for some employees.

Top ten tips for employers to enhance organisational culture within the work place

To help develop a rich and diverse working culture within the workplace here are ten top tips to help employers cultivate good working practice:

  1. Raising awareness of the menopause in an occupational setting through health promotion programmes and awareness training for managers.
  2. Organising social support within the work place.  This could include information packs, mentoring schemes and lunch time support.
  3. Offer flexible working hours, job sharing, and opportunities to work from home.  Many women experience tiredness.
  4. The temperature of the work environment can be an issue, especially in refined spaces. Fans and temperature controls could be implemented.
  5. A rest room where women can relax, just to have some space.
  6. Cold drinking water – many organisations do not provide this.
  7. Prioritise work life balance and maintain firm boundaries in working life and non-working life. Adopt buffer zones so that women feel in control more effectively. Many menopausal women experience feelings of ‘not coping’. If work becomes an issue encourage a specific time each day so that worries can be written down and then discarded.
  8. Remain hopeful and optimistic – women experiencing the menopause often go through different types of emotions such as anxiety and depression. Remember these feelings do subside. Encourage women to discuss how they feel as these feelings are very normal.
  9. Become a supportive manager, women are more likely to discuss menopausal issues with somebody they feel able to talk to. This also encourages organisational loyalty and less absenteeism which can only be a good thing for all companies.

These tips are based on research undertaken by Amanda Griffiths of Nottingham University: Women’s Experience of Working through the Menopause [PDF].

Blog author: Angela Thorogood, a part time research student at the University of Bedfordshire.  Angela is investigating working women’s experiences of the menopause – an area of research which she believes has been largely ignored until recently. 

 

Posted on April 15th, 2013 by Angela Thorogood filed under: Blog, Health

4 Responses to The menopause – the last workplace taboo?

  1. Comment made by kath wood on Apr 19th 2013 at 11:58 am:

    Hi Angela

    I deliver a women’s health & safety awareness course and one of the topics is the menopause. I wondered if you know of any information on the costs to employers & business due to days lost through sickness absence, or where i could find out this information. I really like the information you have posted.

    Kath

  2. Comment made by Gill Levey on Apr 19th 2013 at 1:14 pm:

    Hi Angela
    How refreshing to see an article about something that has almost been a taboo up till now, we definitley need more open discussion and greater recognition about how the menopause can affect women’s performance in the work place.

    For a lot of women myself included its been an inconvenience especially the way my memory was affected and yes at the begining a little scary as I could not remember even the most basic things, there are not enough support groups/forums/telephone support facilities out there for the older woman, who contrary to popular belief does not
    become invisible.

    I hope you continue the much needed research and some recognition comes from it.

  3. Comment made by Angela Thorogood on Apr 19th 2013 at 5:48 pm:

    Hi Kath,

    Thank you for your comments. Do you have an email address?

    Angela

  4. Comment made by Angela Thorogood on Apr 19th 2013 at 5:51 pm:

    Hi Gill,

    Thank you for your kind words. My research is very much in its infancy and i am hoping to do my first study imminently. It would be great to hear more about you ad what you do?

    My email address is angela.thorogood@beds.ac.uk

    Best wishes,
    Angela