Did you know 18th October is Menopause Awareness Day? If not, you can be forgiven as menopause remains a widely overlooked and under-discussed topic across the world.
Of course, when you consider that at least 49% of people in the world will experience menopause during their life, it seems a little less forgivable. Not to be unaware of the date of an awareness day, but that this topic is so overlooked – almost to the point of being taboo.
It is slowly losing its stigma. Women are discussing menopause on public platforms more often, conversations are opening up around society. The impact it has on physical and mental health is being understood by more and more people.
Yet not always in the workplace. Many employers continue to underestimate the impact the menopause can have on their employees – and in turn their workplace.
To do our part in raising awareness, we’ve put together this post exploring that impact. We’ll share the symptoms many women face, and explore how they affect the workplace. To help you put measures in place to minimise these impacts, we have a separate post on supporting your employees through the menopause too.
But for now, we’re looking at what menopause is and the variety of symptoms and impacts it can have on your workplace.
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It usually occurs between the ages of 45-55 but it can happen a lot earlier.
It is not a short, sharp change. It is a gradual process that usually spreads over a number of years. It is split into three stages: early peri-menopause, late peri-menopause and the menopause itself.
In the peri-menopausal stages, women suffer symptoms despite continuing to menstruate. This usually lasts between 4-8 years during which time symptoms may be milder – but this is not always the case.
All women experience the menopause differently. The length, range of symptoms and severity can differ widely. Once menstruation has ceased, symptoms can still continue for years as well. On average, menopausal symptoms will last for more than 7 years overall – a third of women even experience symptoms for longer.
The effects of menopause are felt physically and mentally.
The most common symptoms are vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) which are experienced by around 80% of women.
Many women experience a wide range of other symptoms too including:
While it may feel like some of these symptoms aren’t relevant to the workplace, even issues like night sweats can take a heavy toll on sleep patterns. Disrupted sleep often impairs concentration and general mental health which will in turn affect their work.
It is impossible for an employer to completely remove these symptoms, but there are a lot of steps to be taken that will lessen the extent they affect employees – and the workplace.
Obviously, the strongest effects of menopause are felt by the women experiencing it, and you might be surprised by how many people that includes.
80-90% of women experience menopausal symptoms, and menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 menopausal women are currently in work.
Combine this with the potential 7+ years that symptoms are felt, and this gives you a pretty high chance someone in your staff has already, currently is or soon will experience the menopause.
Yet, lack of understanding and the social stigma means you’re likely not to realise when it happens to one of your employees.
Younger women can be affected by menopause too. While it is more common to experience the transition after 45, 5% of women face an early menopause between the ages of 40 and 45. 1% of women will even have premature menopause before the age of 40 – 0.1% may even experience it before 30.
The menopause affects all women at some point. If you have a diverse and inclusive team of staff, it’s going to impact your company.
Menopause matters. Both to your employees and your company as a whole.
For employees, it can limit their ability to carry out their role. In fact, one survey carried out by the British Menopause Society found that 45% of women felt their work was negatively impacted by their menopausal symptoms.
The combination of physical and mental symptoms means the impact can be felt across your workplace in a number of ways. From lowered productivity due to lack of concentration or physical pains, to interpersonal problems and even increased sickness absences.
Without proper support, employees can seriously suffer through this transition. And with them, the workplace in general can too.
The symptoms most likely to affect women during work hours include hot flushes, low mood, lack of concentration and ‘brain fog’. These can directly impact work, lowering productivity, increasing workplace stress and leaving women in need of a sickness absence.
Working menopausal women may struggle to carry out their jobs at the standard they had previously as well. Feeling low, anxious and suffering hot flushes can make it impossible to concentrate, even without ‘brain fog’ or an impaired memory factoring in as separate symptoms.
And these impacts can stretch beyond those going through the menopause transition too. Team dynamics can be disrupted leaving colleagues and line managers forced to compensate, increasing their stress levels and workloads.
As well as seeing your employee’s wellbeing suffer, you may feel a financial impact of unsupported workers facing menopausal symptoms. Reduced working capacity and increased sickness absences can have a big financial cost for a company.
You can even find yourself racking up recruitment costs if you don’t offer menopause support. A team at the University of Southampton found that women who experienced severe menopausal symptoms at the age of 50 were 43% more likely to have left their jobs before they turned 55.
Failing to support people experiencing menopause can lead to high staff turnover, increased sickness absences and reduced productivity. Together these can place a heavy financial cost on any company.
Yes, severe menopause symptoms can and frequently do require people to take time off work.
In fact, one small-scale survey in the US found that 22% of respondents had been forced to take time off work due to severe menopausal symptoms. Of those people, 71% needed 40 hours or more away from their job.
If nothing else, this should be a driving factor for you to address the needs of menopausal staff. It can save your company money from lost days and all the other struggles caused by increased sickness absences.
A recent large-scale survey suggests that menopause could cost American women $1.8 billion in lost working time. This research was conducted by the Mayo Clinic and focused on the USA – but the concepts and theories translate to the UK too.
This is a hefty price tag and this survey only covers lost working time. It doesn’t take into account other associated costs you might face. Costs such as recruiting replacement staff or lost productivity across staff who try to continue working without reasonable adjustments made for them.
While research into the workplace impacts of menopause is still relatively new and underexplored, it’s impossible to know the exact figures. However, it is clear the financial impacts can be heavy. Genuine work to support women could bring big savings for employers as well as benefitting employees’ wellbeing.
When it comes to menopause and the workplace, there are no quick fixes. But is possible to reduce its impact by supporting menopausal women experiencing this stressful time – and there are a wide variety of ways to do it.
It just takes reasonable adjustments. Flexible working, ongoing support and understanding are just a couple of the tools you can use as is a Health and Wellbeing plan.
For more suggestions, read our post on how to support an employee going through the menopause and see just how many options there are to choose from.
Our occupational health team can help you put together a women’s health strategy that supports your staff. Speak to us today to find out more about how we can help.
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