Not just a women’s problem | Improving menopause workplace policy and support

Gosia Bowling Gosia Bowling Mental Health National Lead
Conversations about menopause should be a normal part of working life. Working during the menopause can make a difficult time even more stressful, so it’s important we all better understand the common challenges that can arise in the workplace during this time.

To help shatter the taboo around 'the change', National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health Gosia Bowling discusses some common concerns for menopausal women in the workplace and how they can be addressed.

Key takeaways

Research reveals a lack of knowledge

A study found that over half of women surveyed could only name 3 of the 48 symptoms associated with menopause. In addition, 49% couldn’t name any phases of the menopause, even when prompted and almost half did not recognise the term perimenopause. As a result, 2 in 3 women indicated that they were shocked and unprepared for the menopause when it did occur.

“I can’t work due to menopause symptoms”

Around 50% of women take time off work due to menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms.

For some women, menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms can make it impossible to complete daily tasks. However, many don’t feel comfortable asking for sick leave to help them rest and recover.

In fact, half of women who take time off work due to menopause don’t feel they’re able to tell their line manager the real reason for their absence.

Getting comfortable with taking time off

Those who need to take time away from work should be able to be open with their employers and talk to them at the earliest opportunity. It’s helpful to give examples – for example, aches and stiffness that make sitting at a desk all day unmanageable.

Keep in contact with your employer while you’re away, too. This not only relieves some of the stress associated with ‘sick leave guilt’ but also helps with easing back into the workplace when you feel ready.

A lack of workplace support

When it comes to the workplace, only 1 in 5 women believe their employer is well informed about the menopause. Over 50% of menopausal women stated their employer knows nothing or very little about the mental or emotional effects of the menopause.

Those who do seek help are not always met by supportive practices from managers. Due to ongoing symptoms, they may miss out on training or development opportunities, feel they need to reduce hours, lose confidence and see pay levels drop, contributing to a widening gender pay gap. Consequently, 1 in 4 women consider resigning from their roles during the menopause, with up to 10% resigning.

“My workplace isn’t flexible”

Nearly one million women have left their jobs due to menopausal symptoms, with one in four women considering quitting.

Not only can daily commutes and loud, busy offices add to feelings of discomfort and stress, but sometimes those going through menopause find it easier to be at home, where they have easier access to the toilet or changing facilities and can make themselves more comfortable.

If your workplace doesn’t offer remote working opportunities, speak to your line manager about how you can make this a reality. Suggesting ways to stay in touch on your remote working days – like video catch-up calls – can help with encouraging buy-in.

What does flexible working actually look like?

Flexible working doesn’t just mean working from home. We all have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments to make the workplace more comfortable for us. For many women, going to work can exacerbate symptoms like fatigue, headaches and hot flushes thanks to stuffy offices, crowded seating arrangements and uncomfortable uniforms.

Speak to your line manager about how these are affecting your wellbeing. Offering reasonable alternatives or adjustments is a productive way of encouraging change, too – for example, sitting further from radiators or air-conditioners, having regular breaks, and access to cold drinking water throughout the day.

“Menopause symptoms are affecting my work performance”

Around eight in 10 women will experience noticeable symptoms during menopause, including hot flushes, poor sleep, erratic periods and UTIs – and almost half of women find hard these hard to manage. 

When menopausal symptoms are thrown into the mix of work stresses, they can become incredibly difficult to control, with those who try to work through the symptoms, often making themselves more unwell.

Consider some workplace adjustments that may help you ease your symptoms and stay on top of your work. This may include starting your working day later, so you can spend some extra time resting after a disrupted night’s sleep.

Also, asking for daily catch-ups with your line manager can help you organise your tasks, reducing the stress of looming deadlines.

“My workplace doesn’t talk about menopause”

Around four in 10 women who have gone through menopause felt unable to talk about it at work, especially with managers.

Women often feel the need to act strong and confident in the workplace, even when they’re struggling. However, speaking about menopause is powerful in normalising the topic and breaking the stigma.

Menopause is a common part of working life, with nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women currently in work. So these conversations should be welcomed and expected by everyone, not just menopausal or perimenopausal women.

How to start a workplace dialogue about menopausal symptoms

Start with a single discreet conversation with your line manager. Explain your symptoms and how they’re affecting your work. For example, forgetfulness is a common symptom of the menopause and may explain why you missed a deadline or lacked confidence during a presentation.

If this doesn’t prove effective, contacting HR is a good next step. Most large companies will have policies in place around the subject. If you work for a smaller company, try arranging a meeting with one of the directors or the owner of the company. Explain your symptoms and situation (if you feel comfortable), and that you want to work with them to lessen the impact on your productivity.

Not just a women’s problem

Poor menopausal policy and support in the workplace affects everyone.

Whether you’re going through the menopause or not, working in an environment that doesn’t support and make reasonable adjustments for those that are can result in a loss of talent, a negative atmosphere, and poor productivity.

Developing positive policies that promote transparency and conversation about the menopause helps shatter the societal taboo around the subject. Both men and women can help with this by talking, encouraging, and working with your employer to help foster a better and more positive workplace environment where menopause isn’t stigmatised.

Last updated Tuesday 5 September 2023

First published on Friday 15 October 2021