Menopause can affect a lot of women in the workforce. For example, many women report that menopausal symptoms can cause them to feel less engaged with their job and struggling with their productivity.
The trouble is, often women are reluctant to speak up about it. This could particularly be the case if they work in a male-dominated industry and don’t want to be seen as the “weak and feeble female” – especially in a workplace that has all the finesse of a rugby league match!
But even in less blokey workplaces women can find themselves suffering in silence and struggling with their work responsibilities.
Before diving further into this though, here are a few key facts about the menopause:
- The Australasian Menopause Society (AMS) describes menopause as a “normal life event” for women, and not an illness or medical condition. This is very important to always remember – especially when it comes to paid work!
- Women spend nearly a third of their lives being post-menopausal – another important fact to be aware of.
- The average length of experiencing symptoms is four years, but it can go on for much longer (our own Menopause Effect survey results bear this out).
- Quite a lot of women (let alone their male work colleagues and bosses!) don’t know much about menopause and its symptoms.
- The average age for the transition to menopause is 51 years according to Monash University. At the same time, just under 80% of women in the 45-54 age group are in the workforce – which could translate to a lot of potentially menopausal women at work!
Menopause and the working woman
According to the AMS some of the main symptoms affecting working women include poor concentration, fatigue, poor memory, depression, reduced confidence and hot flushes. However, many women don’t even recognise it is the menopause causing their symptoms in the first place. This can make it difficult to know where to turn.
Monash University surveyed over 2,000 older women about their experience of menopause at work. They found that many were enthusiastic about pursuing their careers but that some ended up leaving their jobs due to lack of support or feeling overlooked.
Other research by employee benefits group Circle In found that 83% of women surveyed said menopause had negatively affected their experience at work. Around 46% also reported feeling stressed by having to keep their symptoms to themselves.
Here are a few more facts about working women and menopause:
- Menopausal symptoms can lead to lower engagement and less satisfaction with work for many women.
- All too often women can be seen as suffering from mental health problems, and it turns into a work “performance issue” (AMS).
- Menopausal symptoms can result in women not putting themselves forward for promotion or for specialist work, or else quitting their jobs earlier than they otherwise would.
- Around 10% of working women stop work altogether because of their symptoms according to the AMS.
The good news (because there is always some!)
When menopause at work is managed well, it can lessen some of the above problems and also reduce menopause-related absenteeism. This can be very good news for employers in terms of productivity, work continuity and cost savings.
Monash researchers also talk about how older women have a great deal to offer employers. For example, older women often have an accumulation of skills they’ve built up over the years which can be utilised by supportive employers. Also, they are often free of the many of the constraints of younger women and are keen to reignite or forge their careers with renewed vigour.
Making the most of what older women can offer however, requires having supportive policies in place for the issues that affect them.
Workplaces being urged to develop menopause support policies
Some of the things that workplaces are being encouraged to do include:
- Improving awareness of menopause at work through workplace training.
- Making changes to the workplace environment – such as by providing relaxation areas and fans.
- Offering flexible hours – e.g. flexibility around start and finish times or distribution of hours.
- Providing more opportunities for remote working.
- Developing inclusive policies and addressing gendered ageism in the workplace.
- Creating a paid leave category for menopausal symptoms.
The benefits to employers are substantial in this. By the age of menopause many women could have another 20 years of value to offer in the labour force. Implementing menopause support policies can mean reduced absenteeism, better retention, and improved productivity – all of which contribute to the bottom line!
Employers also have a duty of care towards their workers regarding health and safety, equality and non-discrimination. Creating policies helps them address these safety and compliance issues.
Monash Business School has contributed to developing a set of resources (known as ‘MIPO’ – Menopause Information Pack for Organisations) to help employers create menopause support policies. The resources include health checklists of existing policies and tips for implementing positive changes (see link below).
Real-life policy case
The Victorian Women’s Trust was one of the first organisations in Australia to develop a workplace menstrual and menopause policy. Their three-tiered policy includes:
- Opportunity to find a more comfortable place in the office to work or rest if necessary.
- Ability to stay at home and work remotely.
- Up to 12 days of additional paid leave for menstrual or menopausal symptoms.
The Trust has also created a template that other organisations can use to create their own policies (see link below).
Speaking to your employer about menopause at work
Are you a woman at work going through menopause and feeling unsupported by your boss? If so you might want to show your employer some of the following resources. That way they can see for themselves why it’s so important to create workplace menopause policies, how it’s in their own interests to do so, and how they can get started.
- Free MIPO resources from Monash
- Link to Vic Women’s Trust template (called a ‘Menstrual Policy’ but it also covers menopause)
- Link to Circle In’s research.
Writer | Menopause Champion
Tess loves to write and has been writing copy and web content for businesses since 2010. She has also been through menopause and survived to tell the tale, so is quite at home on this site!