Menopause in the workplace

Understanding how menopause can impact your employees and their career

Woman resting her head on her hand working at laptop

It’s a sad irony that, for many women, menopause symptoms strike right when their careers are at their peak, or just as they’re entering a new and exciting phase of their working lives and family responsibilities have started to recede. 

There are an estimated 4 million working women aged between 45 and 55 in the UK1, accounting for a sizeable segment of the population, who offer experience and knowledge while contributing so much value to the nation and its productivity.

It may come as a surprise that as many as one in ten women leave their jobs entirely because of the menopause, while almost half of those going through it say it has affected their ability to do their job2. So what are the issues and what can employers and colleagues do to offer support and retain this much-needed expertise? 

While the average age for menopause transition is 51, many women start to experience a range of symptoms in the years before their periods stop completely (perimenopause); some of the same, and a whole new array of symptoms often continue for many years afterwards.

Among the most common symptoms are hot flushes and night sweats, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, memory loss and what’s often referred to as ‘brain fog’. This is an addition to changes in their period patterns, sexual health, metabolism and energy levels, all of which can affect women’s self-confidence and sense of professionalism.

On speaking to women in a variety of job roles, experiences like these are not unusual:

I was exhausted from countless sleepless nights and was worried I’d make mistakes at work.

I started to get flustered in meetings, losing the thread of what I’d been trying to get across. It was embarrassing and I felt like I was letting my employer down.

I was constantly worried about having to rush out of a meeting to deal with a sudden heavy period or the hot flushes that would come out of nowhere.

I felt I wasn’t the same person anymore, I began to retreat into my shell and the quality of my work suffered because I was afraid to ask for help.

When you’ve worked really hard to reach your professional goals, it can be soul-destroying to find yourself suddenly unable to perform at the same level. Nearly a third of women report having had to take time off work due to menopause symptoms, yet only a quarter of these felt confident in telling their employer the true reason for their absence3.

Data from the recently published CIPD and Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work report found that a quarter of employers have a menopause policy in place, however Opinum research commissioned by Simplyhealth4 to mark World Menopause Day shows less than 1 in 10 (9%) of women going through menopause work for a business that currently offers leave for this. 

Woman working at laptop and cooling down with a handheld fan

By creating a workplace culture in which women can feel secure and supported as they progress through what is a perfectly natural but often challenging phase of their lives, employers will continue to benefit from their valuable contribution.

For some, this might involve making some practical considerations and adjustments. Uniforms made from breathable fabric, fans and private rooms to change would all make a big difference to someone experiencing hot flushes. Meetings later on in the day would help anyone struggling with sleep, as well as the freedom to turn your camera off during teams calls.

Others may find it beneficial to set up a support group for colleagues to share experiences, tips and remedies and to come up with their own ideas on what would make a positive difference in their particular working environment. 

Just knowing their employer, and their colleagues, appreciate what they’re going through so they don’t have to hide it, can make a huge difference to women’s confidence and ability to work around their symptoms.

For further advice on providing the best support for working women, check out the guidance from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) at: https://www.cipd.org/uk/knowledge/guides/menopause-people-professionals-guidance/

Want to know more about the menopause?

Watch our panel discussion about how to support women in the workplace.

References

  1. Office for National Statistics, Social Survey Division, 2021
  2. British Menopause Society survey, 2016
  3. https://www.cipd.org/globalassets/media/knowledge/knowledge-hub/reports/2023-pdfs/2023-menopause-report-8456.pdf
  4. Between 21st-27th September, Opinium surveyed 2,000 UK women employees on their views and experience around women’s health in the workplace.