Women aged 45 to 55 make up a huge proportion of the UK workforce. With the average woman going through menopause at 511 it’s not hard to see why more and more businesses are keen to make sure their employees are supported.
And menopause doesn’t just affect women. Often, both women and their families struggle to understand menopause symptoms and can find it incredibly stressful: 56% of partners feel symptoms negatively impact their relationships2. Encouraging an open environment where all employees feel safe to raise any concerns they have, helps everyone.
What is the menopause?
The medical definition of the menopause is when a woman has her last period. It usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, although it can occur any time up to mid-60s.
A premature menopause can occur, with periods stopping before the age of 40, either naturally or as an effect of a medical condition or its treatment.
What are the symptoms?
Most menopausal women experience symptoms, but every woman is different and these can be felt to varying degrees. What’s certain is that any symptoms can be a daily challenge. Here’s just some of what women can experience:
- hot flushes: short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make the skin red and sweaty
- difficulty sleeping: this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- problems with memory and concentration
- mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
- palpitations: heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
- joint stiffness, aches and pains
- reduced muscle mass
- recurrent urinary tract infections.
Guidance for managers
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms at some point in their working life, yet one in four women say they don’t get the support they need from their manager3. A few simple changes to someone’s working environment can make a difference to their working life, enabling them to continue performing and contributing to their full potential.
The European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS)4 highlight some recommendations and top tips to support women experiencing the menopause in the workplace including:
- Have regular, informal conversations between manager and employee that allow a platform for changes in health to be discussed; including issues related to the menopause, which may affect life and work (such as depression, fatigue, insomnia).
- Acknowledge the menopause is a normal stage of life and do not be dismissive of symptoms. For many women it’s a big deal, affecting their quality of life, for others it passes without much upheaval.
- Recognise not every woman would feel comfortable speaking to their manager about the menopause, so signposting a discussion with an occupational health professional could be beneficial, if accessible.
- Review control of workplace temperature and ventilation and see how they might be adapted to meet the needs of individuals. This might include having a desktop fan in an office or locating a workstation near an opening window or away from a heat source.
- Ensure access to washroom facilities and toilets, including when travelling or working in temporary locations.
- Consider flexible working hours or shift changes. If sleep is disturbed, later start times might be helpful.
- Where uniforms are compulsory, flexibility is helpful. This might include the use of thermally comfortable fabrics, optional layers, being allowed to remove neckties or jackets, as well as the provision of changing facilities.
- Where work requires constant standing or prolonged sitting, having access to a rest room (e.g. to sit during work breaks) would be helpful, as would space to move about for those women in sedentary roles.
If you’re a manager, it’s is important not to shy away from the topic of the menopause as so many of the female workforce will experience it. By implementing a few practical measures, as well as offering flexibility, understanding and empathy and having open conversations with staff, it’ll help make female staff feel less awkward and better empowered.