The ‘M’ Word – the impact of menopause in the workplace
What if I told you that by 2025, 1 billion women will experience a health condition likely to negatively impact their everyday wellbeing and, in most cases, likely to last several years?  Let’s put this into perspective: that’s almost double the reported global cases of Covid-19 (at the time of writing this piece; October 2022). And yet the significant lack of awareness and consequent action around the inevitable menopause and the impact menopause will have directly and indirectly on a significant portion of the global population is shocking.
Menopause and the workforce
Menopausal symptoms affect more than 75% of women. Symptoms of perimenopause, which marks the beginning of the transition to menopause, tend to start when a woman is mid-40s, with the 51yo being the average age women reach menopause (although could begin earlier). On average, the symptoms last for seven years and in some cases can exceed this time. The impact of menopause on women and consequently all areas of society to which they contribute is widespread and not just a ‘woman-issue’, it does and will, in some way, reach us all. However, zooming into menopause in the workplace, it is worth noting that (in the UK) there has been a 69% increase in the rate of employment amongst women aged 55-59; one of the biggest increases in employment rates in the last 30 years, this is similar to elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world where there is also an increase in employment rates for women. This means that increased rates of employment among women aged 50 and above mean more working women than ever before will experience the menopause.
The reality of the physical and mental impact of menopausal symptoms.
A significant majority of women experiencing the menopause; 77% , experience one or more symptom which they describe as ‘very difficult’. A study involving European, British and Australian women found that 90% of European and 97% of Australian women experienced menopausal symptoms. The study captured the physical experiences of women undergoing menopause to include hot flushes, feeling tired, sleep disorders, sweats, weight gain, low libido, skin changes, joint or muscle stiffness, vulvovaginal dryness, palpitations, urinary dysfunction and pain. It is clear that these symptoms, which are in many cases ongoing and perhaps in some cases more extreme will impact the temporal or longer-term wellbeing of women experiencing them.
There is a stigma around the menopause in workplaces, it’s a joke with most men and I don’t realise how horrible it can be.
Moreover, there is also a list of symptoms impacting women’s mental health which are triggered by the life-changing event that is menopause; 69% say they experience difficulties with anxiety or depression due to menopause, 84% experience trouble sleeping and 73% experience brain fog.
A survey found that women who were experiencing menopause and were affected negatively at work, they reported that they were less able to concentrate (65%), experienced more stress (59%) and 52% felt less patient with their clients and colleagues.
Despite the unsurprising impact on their mental health, many women do not associate these other symptoms such as tiredness, perhaps related to sleeping problems, low mood, anxiety, poor memory and concentration or sensation of brain fog to the menopause. So sadly, many women may fail to understand why they are experiencing them.
How menopause impacts the workplace
Three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work A study conducted by the CIPD found that:
- 44% of women said their ability to work had been affected,
- 61% said that they had lost motivation at work due to their symptoms,
- 52% said they had lost confidence
What is most worrying is that the findings of one study which showed that one in ten women who have worked during the menopause have left a job due to their symptoms. The severity and significance of the menopausal symptoms cannot be overstated and yet sadly, a 2016 survey found that 47% of those who needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms indicated that they would not tell their employer the real reason for their absence.
One in ten women who have worked during the menopause have left a job due to their symptoms.
We know from our Three Barriers research that significant barriers exist when it comes to the advancement of women’s careers. The experience of women undergoing menopause is exacerbated by this change as they will sit on the intersection of age discrimination and bias as well as gender. This bias can indeed be further intensified if that woman is a woman of colour. Menopause and its symptoms are linked to the unhelpful stigma and stereotypes of a decline in competence and ability as a result of age and hormonal changes experienced by women. The potential impacts of this in our working culture are serious; the everyday sexism and microaggressions linked to menopause and the consequent exclusion experienced is not only a collection of significant barriers but also can easily lead to discrimination
The evidence setting out the exacerbating effects of menopausal symptoms on the relationship between job demands and work ability is clear. The lack of awareness, education and meaningful action to address this issue seems is also clear. More has to be done in relation to menopause if we are to mitigate the harm to women’s wellbeing, organisational culture and business prosperity.
What must be done to support women colleagues experiencing menopause
When considering the historical and ongoing efforts, strides and sacrifices that have been made to enhance women’s equality in the workplace, these statistics are distressing. With more than 1 billion women set to experience menopausal symptoms in the next couple of years, there is the very real possibility of eroding the previous gains in gender equality in the workplace if action isn’t taken. More has to be done by colleagues and organisations alike to better support women undergoing the menopause and continue the efforts for enhancing gender equity.
Before I knew I was in perimenopause I last a job because I simply couldn’t function any longer.
So, what can we do to ensure menopause is addressed and adequate support is provided to women experiencing it?
- Raise awareness – be loud and clear about menopause and its impact on women and commit to support women in the business. Despite the fact that we all will know someone who is or will experience menopause, it has and continues to be a topic with an unhelpful stigma attached to it. Moreover, the education on the impact of menopause is scant and many perceive this as an ‘older woman-only’ issue. Organisations have a real opportunity and responsibility to step in and their efforts in breaking the stigma can have far-reaching positive effects not just inside the workplace but outside too. Ramp up your awareness raising efforts on menopause, invest in training and create a culture of openness on this topic. Men benefit from this as much as women, in being better able to support their colleagues, spouse and family members.
- Leverage your Women’s Employee Resource Groups (or other forums) to provide safe spaces for women to share freely and support each other. Although the conversation around menopause is opening up, for many in the workforce, the long-standing stigma and reluctance to talk openly about personal experiences and impact may continue. Create supportive spaces for women to share freely (if they would like) and normalise the ‘m’ word. The feeling of being supported will go a long way in your people culture and will demonstrate to pre-menopausal women the culture of inclusivity.
- Create menopause specific policies – embedding policies and guidance that recognise and protect women experiencing menopause is a meaningful step in creating inclusive an inclusive culture. Addressing matters around menopause related sick leave, support as an ongoing health condition and how to address these matters is crucial. This is going beyond talking the talk and demonstrates to your people, clients, investors, competitors and other stakeholders the willingness and meaningful action on creating more inclusive workspaces.
- Make flexibility the norm – it has been said many times before, however, adopting a culture of flexible working and normalising this as part of an organisation can exponentially help women experiencing life changes such as the menopause to manage their very physical symptoms with their work responsibilities and expectations. For example, being able to start work later if your sleep pattern is disrupted, or having more control over when you work if you are experiencing severe anxiety, can help to alleviate stress. Making roles flexible by default, is a trend we are observing, and removes the burden from employees to have to justify a request to work in a flexible way.
Click here to learn more about Shape Talent and join our mailing list to be the first to receive our tools, research and updates.
And be sure to follow us on social media:
 UK Government Equalities (2017) ‘Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation’
 Viotti, S.; Guidetti, G.; Sottimano, I.; Travierso, L.; Martini, M.; Converso, D. Do Menopausal Symptoms Affect the Relationship between Job Demands, Work Ability, and Exhaustion?