"Let's talk menopause" Increasing our awareness and understanding of menopause symptoms
It's important that managers and peers are well-informed about menopause symptoms and how they might impact on colleagues, to be better placed to offer support. We encourage everyone to read this short article.
In support of colleagues who may be experiencing some or all of these often distressing symptoms, please take a minute or two – especially if you are a line manager – to familiarise yourself with the following information.
What are some of the symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms are many and varied, and can be severe. They include:
- Memory and concentration issues
- Night sweats and hot flushes
- Anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings
- Recurrent urinary tract infections and other bladder symptoms
- Hair thinning or growth of unwanted hair
- Heavy, painful periods
- Dry, itchy skin
- Joint stiffness, aches and pains
How can menopause symptoms impact on functioning and wellbeing in the workplace?
Six out of 10 of people experiencing menopause say it has a negative effect on their workplace functioning. Some may even consider leaving their jobs, such is the potentially disabling impact, particularly if workplace support is lacking or inadequate.
- It can be very uncomfortable to disclose menopause symptoms to managers (particularly, perhaps, if managers are young and/or male), so there will often be an element of "suffering in silence". This is an additional source of stress at an already challenging time. Some might also attempt to work when unfit to do so (presenteeism).
- Time off may be needed to manage symptoms. Some might even consider permanently reducing their hours or giving up work altogether in order to cope, and career progression may stall.
- There may be concern over perceived shortcomings due to the menopause. Working extra hard or putting in long hours to compensate may result. This in turn could increase the likelihood of burnout.
- Changes to hair and skin can increase feelings of self-consciousness and impact on confidence.
- Heavy and painful periods, hot flushes, mood swings, fatigue and poor concentration can be difficult to manage in the workplace, leading to embarrassment and reduced confidence.
How can line managers and peers best support affected colleagues?
- Familiarise yourself with symptoms and how these might impact on workplace wellbeing and functioning.
- Talk openly about menopause, to reduce stigma and encourage colleagues to open up about their own experience and ask for any reasonable adjustments that might help them to manage their symptoms. ("Say 'menopause' three times a day, academics urged" BBC News 2018)
- Focus on solutions rather than problems.
- Always take health issues into consideration if addressing performance or productivity issues.
- Don't offer unsolicited or uninformed advice. Instead, point people in the direction of reliable sources of information e.g. the NHS website or Menopause Matters.
- Allow flexibility in relation to when and where colleagues work.
- Consider practical measures that may make working life more comfortable for people experiencing menopause symptoms e.g. temperature control, ventilation & fans in offices, access to private rest areas, regular comfort breaks during meetings.
- For most, the menopause starts between the ages of 45 and 55. Keep in mind however that menopause can affect younger colleagues too – chromosome abnormalities, autoimmune diseases, certain infections, and cancer treatments can all bring about an early menopause, for example, in itself a devastating diagnosis. Trans people can also experience menopause symptoms as a result of treatment or treatment interruptions.
Where can I find out more?
There are many useful websites and resources relating to the nature and impact of menopause symptoms. Here are a few you may wish to access to increase your awareness and build understanding of what colleagues you work alongside or people you manage may be experiencing.
University of Glasgow resources
NB UofG’s Equality and Diversity Unit is currently working on a Menopause and Hormonal Changes Policy which, pending approval, is expected to launch in autumn 2022. We will share information about this in HAWKEYE later in the year.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) menopause information and resources
The CIPD "Let's talk menopause" webpages are another useful source of information about menopause and its impact in the workplace. Again, we encourage you to set aside a few minutes to read through this content and consider the ways in which you could make a positive difference to the working life of someone who may be struggling with menopause symptoms.
NHS menopause webpages
A series of webpages providing about menopause symptoms and treatment
An award-winning website providing up to date information about the menopause
A campaigning group that works with MPs, trade unions, NHS hospital trusts, public figures, doctors and the media, with the aim of making the menopause easier to talk about and signposting sources of support. They have created a number of resources for individuals and organisations, including a support pack and a poster which are free for any individual or organisation to access and use.
If you are a staff member or student experiencing distressing or disabling menopause symptoms which are affecting your working life or study experience, please consider speaking to your line manager or supervisor about possible adjustments that could help, or other ways that we could support you.
First published: 19 April 2022