Breaking the stigma: The biggest workplace menopause challenges and how to tackle them

Conversations about menopause should be a normal part of working life. Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Emotional Wellbeing, discusses some common concerns for menopausal women in the workplace and how these can be addressed – to help change the taboo around 'the change'.

Menopausal women are the fastest-growing workforce demographic, with almost half of existing UK workers expected to experience menopause during their working lives.

So, it’s a worrying thought that 16% of individuals go through menopause completely alone, without speaking to anyone. These conversations are even less likely to take place in the office, with many people worrying they’ll be embarrassed or stigmatised.

Working during menopause can make a difficult time only more stressful, so it’s important to understand common menopause challenges in the workplace. Here are four of the biggest concerns and how we can tackle them.

1. “I can’t work due to menopause symptoms”

Around half 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 tell their line manager the real reason for their absence.

Those who need to take time away from work should be open with their employers. Talk to them at the earliest opportunity, explaining your symptoms and how they’re impacting your ability to work. 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.

2. “My workplace isn’t flexible”

Nearly one million women have left their job 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, sometimes those going through menopause find it easier to be at home, where they have easier access to 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.

However, 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.

3. “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 to organise your tasks, reducing the stress of looming deadlines.

4. “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.

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

The sooner we make these conversations a normal part of the workplace, we can change the taboo around 'the change’ and support everyone within the workplace to thrive and reach their full potential.

Last updated Thursday 9 March 2023

First published on Friday 15 October 2021