We use the terms ‘people/person who menstruates’ and ‘menstruating person’ throughout this article to recognise that some non-binary persons and members of the trans community may also experience menopause, and not all those who menstruate identify as women.
When a menstruating person stops having their period, the physiological changes can be simple, or even barely noticeable. However, this is rarely the case.
One third of the UK workforce is either going through or has gone through menopause. For a lot of them, these changes affect a persons’ ability to work due to a whole host of different symptoms.
The menopause process is continuous and has three stages:
In the following article we discuss how menopause is a health issue, a workplace issue, and ultimately, an equality issue too.
What we’ll be looking into:
- Menopause symptoms and their effect on working
- Why menopause is a workplace issue
- Discriminatory workplaces and how to create a safer environment
- Destigmatising menopause in the workplace
- The impact of a menopause policy
The effect of menopause on working life
Menopause marks the start of a new biological chapter in a person’s life. Typically, menopause occurs between the ages of 45-55 however a host of other factors can affect this.
Early-onset menopause can affect younger people, and surgical or medically induced menopause can occur following a hysterectomy, or through interventions such as some cancer treatments.
Menopause therefore is not confined to one age group. Recognising its importance for the lives of people across different demographics is key to normalising its occurrence in the workplace and beyond.
According to research by the Women’s and Equality Committee of the UK Government, 99% of people experiencing menopause experienced at least one symptom, and 92% of these said it had affected them at work.
Increased difficulty sleeping, fatigue, a lack of confidence and trouble concentrating are all typical menopausal symptoms which go beyond the hot flush symptom that so often defines menopause. So many symptoms in fact, that there are a recorded 50 associated with menopause alone, reported by a range of ethnicities and cultures. So, everyone’s experience is individual.
Menopause can also exacerbate or cause the onset of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, the Women’s and Equality Committee research said that this was reported by a significant 69% of respondents polled.
Unfortunately, the workplace has the potential to increase these feelings, adding to stress levels generally, and for some providing a restricted environment within which to cope with the body’s physiological changes.
Why should menopause be a workplace issue?
The NHS says that the demographic where the majority of people are experiencing menopause is also the fastest growing in the workforce.
It is time to address menopause for what it is. It is not a ‘women’s issue’ but a normal and impactful health development in many people’s lives.
Whilst we know there should be no place in the workplace for stigma or shame surrounding the menopause. With its continuation, people experiencing menopause might feel belittled, shamed and even discriminated against at work.
There is an imperative for employers and workplaces to create a comfortable and flexible working environment for women who are, on average, at an age coinciding with what may be the peak of their careers.
For example according to Oxford Economics, if a person earning £25,000 annually felt forced to leave their position due to the intolerable side effects of menopause, the cost to replace them would equate to over £30,500.
This is a problem, since so many going through menopause feel the need to remove themselves from work. An estimated 1 in 4 people experiencing menopause consider leaving their roles altogether.
Destigmatising Menopause in the workplace
According to the Wales Trades Union Congress, 56% of workers have seen menopause being joked about in the workplace.
It is not just a gender issue, but an age issue too. Some younger people, regardless of gender, may be dismissive of issues that don’t affect them yet.
This feeds into the overall stigma associated with people who menstruate at a certain age, creating what can be a hostile work environment for someone battling with side effects of reaching menopause.
Within a workplace, and by extension, societal culture that increases this stigma, those affected might belittle their symptoms, normalise their discomfort, and feel shameful for speaking out when they need support.
There is an added pressure for many dependent on their culture too. Some translations of menopause show how the word can be considered taboo in many cultures, for meaning to be barren, or not useful anymore. Therefore, when menopause becomes the butt of a workplace joke, for many women this can be more discriminatory than some may consider.
The toll on mental health
For many who are experiencing menopause, the impacts are not confined to the physical. The effect menopause has on those with prior mental health conditions is big and can exacerbate conditions.
Furthermore, initial symptoms may reduce mental capacity and increase brain fog, making the functioning of day-to-day life difficult. Many may still be having periods at this stage, regularly enough not to assume it is menopause.
Therefore, when navigating this life change in an environment that does not provide a safe or comfortable place to voice concerns, understand the full scope of what menopause entails, or empower those affected to be aware of their physiological changes, there may be an additional push factor to leave such a hostile environment.
Creating a comfortable work culture that is informed and understanding could help alleviate these pressures. Without this, those experiencing these menopausal challenges might face a risk of developing mental health conditions due to a perceived lack of emotional support, as outlined here.
What would an inclusive employer look like?
There are many things employers can do to create these safe working environments.
Things to look out for could be:
- The option for flexible/ home working
- Giving more time to complete tasks
- Being allowed to take extra/ longer breaks
- Uniform flexibility to help with physical side effects
- Maintaining regular check-ins with employees affected in case their situation changes
These are all things which an employer could or should be doing on top of decreasing stigma, encouraging open and honest conversation and prohibiting language that serves to belittle the symptoms faced by someone experiencing menopause.
The impact of a menopause policy
Even more so than menstrual policies, workplace menopause policies have the potential to really help affected employees.
Whilst there is no legal requirement for a workplace to implement one of these, there are some organisations who have taken this step for their employees which has improved their credibility as inclusive employers. These include well-known names such as HSBC UK, Sainsburys and the NHS.
There has also been a call from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine to create workplace standards for menopause which includes guidance surrounding workplace training, in order to destigmatise it.
These policies all consider the effects of menopause of all potentially-affected employees. This includes the experiences of female, non-binary and trans members of staff.
These policies are vital for the benefit of employees, but unfortunately, according to the Wales Trades Union Congress, only 1% of workers polled knew of their company having one of these policies, despite 90% believing that their workplace would benefit from having one.
Recognising the impact that stigmatising menopause has on both employees and, by extension, employers is a crucial first step in creating safe and healthy work environments.
If this demographic is you and you feel unheard by your employer, we hope that this article is useful for you.
If you are not yet affected by menopause, we hope that we can help normalise what is coming to best prepare and empower you to make the right decisions for your physical and mental health.
Remember that menopause is a normal aspect of life as someone who menstruates.
There is a lot of work left to be done within society at large in order for menopause to get the recognition it deserves, but for now, just know that here at Kari Health, we want you to know that you are not alone.
It is our job to help spur the conversation and destigmatise women’s health.
We know it can be hard, but menopause is a transformative time that can be celebrated.
‘So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as an ending. I’ve discovered that this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else.‘ – Oprah Winfrey
We are here to support you in making the right decisions for you and your body.
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