According to The Menopause Charity, it is estimated 14 million working days are lost to menopause each year, one in four women say they don’t feel supported by their manager, and one-third of women hide symptoms at work as they fear for their jobs.
The Menopause Charity itself was set up in 2020 by leading menopause specialist, Doctor Louise Newson and Ambassadors include Davina McCall, Michelle Griffith Robinson and Lorraine Kelly.
The charity campaigns to ensure everybody has access to evidence-based information, appropriate care, and treatment, and by doing this, they know that menopause can be a positive and life-affirming experience.
Watch the full interview with Jenny or read the transcribed interview below:
Q: What is menopause and who does it affect?
A: The menopause refers to the time when you actually stop having periods and can no longer get pregnant naturally. And this occurs because a woman's ovaries stop producing eggs, and as a result, levels of hormones that women produce, so that’s estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, fall. So, testosterone isn't just a man's hormone, as is often assumed.
So, although menopause is often used to describe the period of time when you notice that change in periods, menopause actually refers to a single day, and that day is when you haven't had a period for 12 months in a row.
Unless you've had a surgical menopause, your ovaries don't suddenly stop working, so menopause doesn't happen overnight. That transition period leading up to the menopause, where your ovaries start to slow down gradually, that's actually known as the perimenopause. And that can last for a few months or several years. During the menopause, women will start to experience so many physical and psychological symptoms.
Q: What are the symptoms of menopause and how do they vary between different women?
A: So, the menopause can impact upon women in, gosh, so many different ways, and it can depend on their age and the severity of the symptoms, and also the care that they actually receive and the treatment that they have access to. Up to 45% of women in the UK have reported that they experience distressing symptoms and around 10% report them as actually being severe.
Menopause often occurs at the same time as other significant life changes, such as children leaving the home, elderly relatives requiring care, and all of these can really exacerbate the impact of menopause as well, and often leave women wondering “Oh is it just in my mind?”, you know, “Is it because I've got all of these other things going on?”.
So as women, we have estrogen receptors on every single cell in our body. So, without estrogen that means that there are so many very different symptoms that can occur, and they vary from woman to woman.
They can include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, problems with memory and concentration, frequent yeast and urinary infections, a change to digestive system, vaginal dryness, and weight gain - amongst a whole heap of other things. But, it's also psychological, so anxiety and depression are actually really common, and some women report experiencing extreme anger regarding matters, that normally, just simply wouldn't bother them.
Some also become really tearful or overly emotional, and really sadly, some women do report severe depression, suicidal feelings, and heartbreakingly, a number of women have taken their own lives because of menopause. We know that there is an increase in female suicide towards the late 40s, early 50s in women, these stats coincide absolutely with perimenopause and menopause.
Women who experience menopause earlier have a higher risk of osteoporosis and cardiac cardiovascular disease, while women who might experience menopause later have an increased risk of breast cancer. So, there's a lot of overlap with lots of other illnesses as well. The menopause can impact on all of these.
Knowledge is power, and that's really the most important thing. When you know early and you understand and you're able to look out and recognise the signs, you know what to go and do about it. So yeah, knowledge is the key thing.
Q: How can managers recognise a member of staff going through menopause?
A: I'm passionate about people being knowledgeable and having a better understanding of perimenopause and menopause symptoms and how they might impact someone. In general, as well as in the workplace, that's key.
Q: What should managers be doing to support their employees through menopause?
A: Well, educating managers is one of the best ways, as I say, that organisations can support those employees through the menopause, and attitudes are really important because evidence shows us that women are really reluctant, understandably, to disclose their menopause status at work. And, disclosures always got to be a matter of personal choice.
So, the best thing that managers and organisations can do, is to ensure that you've got a workplace environment where women feel empowered to access support, seek more individual solutions, and be empowered to talk about it. It's ensuring your company is visibly making space for conversations about menopause in the workplace. I think that's key.
The Menopause Charity will shortly be launching our Workplace Kitemark, and that's designed to help organisations work towards improving that work environment. So, staff are comfortable talking about women's health, about tackling stigma, and crucially, really ensuring people in menopause know how to access that adequate treatment and support. Because unless an individual is accessing treatment and support, there's not very much the company is going to be able to do to truly make a difference to that individual.
Our Kitemark has three core pillars that all managers can adopt to support their staff. That’s education for all - ensuring access to evidence-based information is readily available. And, that includes signposting and promotion of treatment options. It's about ensuring inclusive and supportive conversation, so raising awareness and creating that really positive embracing culture where employees, maybe customers as well, are really comfortable to talk about perimenopause and menopause. So, you know an individual isn't going to have that conversation with their line manager unless they feel really comfortable that there is that environment in place.
And the third pillar is to make sure that leadership is really dedicated to tackling that stigma. So senior leaders are evidently engaged in this, and not just tasking the HR department with writing a policy. It's down to the leadership to make sure that, that stigma is tackled in the workplace, and that they're not harnessing a simply just “get on with it” style culture.
Q: What should a manager do if their employee doesn’t want any support, is there anything that can be done?
A: Yeah, I mean, given the stigma around menopause, it is natural, but an employee just might not want that support from their organisation. And actually, according to some new research by The Fawcett Society, one third hide their symptoms at work because they fear for their jobs. So that's why it's so important that companies seek to embed that education and signposting for all, so that women, all their loved ones, colleagues, and friends, equally know how best to support them, and ensure that they can reach adequate treatment and support if they're not open to engaging with their manager in that way.
It’s kind of similar to other practices that organisations embed in other areas, to make sure that there are resources, and that employees can access that support, even if they don't feel comfortable going to their line manager. But I would encourage that with inclusive training and that knowledge base, hopefully, everybody will have an open culture.
Q: Should companies have HR policies around menopause? And if yes, why would this be important?
A: So as the menopause becomes more openly talked about, I know that companies are recognising the need to implement policies and take action within the workplace. And whilst every company that adopts a menopause policy, makes reasonable adjustments and raises awareness is making a step in the right direction, I always say it's vital that more is done. Because we don't want to see a menopause policy just being the tick box for compliance, because that doesn't tackle the root cause issue.
So, unless a policy is embedded and sits within a wider framework that seeks to educate aid for conversation and tackle stigma, it's not going to address the fact that an estimated 14 million working days are lost each year due to the menopause. It’s just really important to recognise that just as all organizations differ, people in menopause experience different symptoms. There really is no one-size-fits-all fix to having a menopause-friendly company.
And that's why the menopause Workplace Kitemark is providing that framework with resources and guidance, so that organisations can embed the right approach that best supports their employees.
Q: How should a company go about creating a policy?
A: There are lots of templates out there. But I think one of the most important things to do with any of these elements, especially to make sure it's not just a tick box exercise, is to engage employees and find out what it is that they need. What’s going to help them best? What's going to help them feel supported and confident?
And so therefore similarly for line managers, asking them, what support do you need to help you live a menopause policy if somebody comes to you and they're experiencing these difficulties? So I think engaging your employees, taking some external advice, and building that all together into what suits you. So don't Google a menopause policy and think right, that's it, job done. It's that wider organisation engagement.
Q: 10% of people going through menopause leave work as a result. Can you explain a bit more about this?
A: Yeah. Our workforce is getting older. There's a higher number of women in employment than ever before. And this means that more women are experiencing perimenopause and menopause symptoms at work. And it's often in the workplace that women report greater difficulty, so managing their symptoms that fuel their anxiety. And then there's also that fear that they may be stigmatised for being menopausal. So on top of the symptoms that you're experiencing, on top of the life changes that might be happening at home, you've also got this fear of, “oh, gosh, actually, how might this impact on my job?”.
That combined with the psychological symptoms, the memory loss, the brain fog, depression, anxiety, and those other menopause symptoms, can all affect a woman's confidence and her ability to do her job. But we also know then if you layer on hot flushes and flooding at work, you know, we know that there is a direct link to those physical symptoms actually making women have a higher intention to leave the workforce.
So for women experiencing these symptoms work can be a real struggle and if we include the lowered confidence with that lack of sleep, then yeah, there's countless reports of women leaving their jobs. Women who have spent decades forging successful careers find out they're missing out on promotions or even worse they’re losing their jobs, that then impacts on a woman's financial security. And, I think those stories are just absolutely harrowing.
Q: What would you say to leaders that don’t tackle menopause head on?
A: I think as leaders, we have a duty of care to tackle that stigma that remains attached to menopause.
Attitudes are slowly changing, but there are still those associations with hysteria, incompetence and erratic behaviour, and some women feel that they've outdone their biological usefulness. There's so much going on.
Others believe that as the menopause is something every woman experiences, then hey, you just need to get on with it, so you don't need to access help and support. Because, yeah, maybe somebody's mother or an older colleague just got on with it. So, some people aren't accessing that help and support that might actually transform their experience from one that is negative and devastating, into something more positive.
So, I think tackling that stigma, making sure that women no longer feel reluctant, or too embarrassed to talk about their symptoms. I think that's so empowering and so crucial, and that's a role that leaders have.
Q: To what extent should companies support the partners or family members of those going through menopause?
A: Ohh absolutely. So, whilst the menopause effects 51% of the population, the women, it impacts 100%. So our partners, our friends, our family members - including our children - and our work colleagues, are all feeling the impact of the symptoms. It’s really crucial that everyone, regardless of gender or even age, has a greater awareness and understanding of menopause, the symptoms, knowing and understanding those symptoms, and how best to support and signpost anyone who may be suffering. The more confident we all are in talking about the menopause, the sooner we can alleviate suffering.
And I think some of the most powerful lines I actually hear, particularly when it comes to men in the workplace, and when I have sat in line management training about menopause, is quite often it's the men who voice up in those sessions and talk about what their experience has been at home. And it can add real gravitas when we layer that into work. Because you know, if we make an impact in the workplace, then that transcends back into our homes and ripples out through our communities as well.
So, I would say that companies that are supporting everybody, so those partners, and family members as well, just by making sure that there is that education, awareness, and that environment where people can talk, then that is also a real positive corporate social responsibility because it transcends the workplace and goes back into homes and communities. And it probably helps save multiple people who are suffering from the symptoms of menopause.
For more information about menopause in the workplace, find out more about The Menopause Charity’s Workplace Kitemark.