An experienced GP of 17 years, Dr Lindsey Thomas has a specialist interest in the perimenopause, menopause and all aspects of women’s health and tells us why we should be talking more about the menopause in the workplace.
Many people ask me why menopause is important in the workplace and it can be summed up by this one shocking fact: that one in ten women leave their jobs because of it.
The menopause transition is something all women will experience at some point in their lives.
For most women in the UK this happens between the ages of 45 and 55 with an average age of 51. But for some women this can happen much earlier; under the age of 45 this is classed as an early menopause and under the age of 40 a condition called Primary Ovarian Insufficiency which requires specialist management.
Menopause can also happen as a result of surgery or medications and cancer treatments. And as this usually results in a very abrupt cut off of hormones, the symptoms can be more severe.
Leading up to the menopause is a time where hormone levels are fluctuating and declining, but women are still having periods, which is known as the perimenopause which can start up to 10 years before the menopause.
There can be a misconception that symptoms only start once periods have stopped, but the perimenopause can be an equally tricky time. And in fact, with fluctuations in hormone levels meaning symptoms can come and go, it can be even harder for women to register what is going on.
The majority of women will experience some symptoms, and as hormones have an impact all over the body, symptoms are far broader than the hot flushes and night sweats most people think of. Often the symptoms women struggle the most with can be those which impact them emotionally such as anxiety, low mood and poor sleep.
Lots of women can find that they can’t think as clearly as they did, they forget words or can’t focus in the same way, which can really undermine confidence especially at work, and make some women very fearful that they are developing dementia.
And there can be physical symptoms such as palpitations, headaches and worsening migraines, which can often lead to a lot of anxiety, unless these are recognised as part of the menopause transition. How women experience these symptoms, and the impact on their lives is very individual, but it is estimated that as many as 25 per cent of women will find their symptoms debilitating.
With women over the age of 50 forming the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, it is easy to see how this transition for some can have a significant impact on their working as well as personal lives.
“In fact, surveys suggest these are not small numbers with 45 per cent of women feeling the menopause has had a negative impact on their work life, and one in 10 having left a job due to their symptoms.”
With an estimated 14 million working days lost to menopause every year, and significant costs to employers to replace staff, how to address this in the workplace is becoming a key topic.
These are women generally with years of experience and skills and implementing policies and strategies which can improve their work lives and improve retention are essential in any organisation.
At Myla Health we work with organisations to provide bespoke workplace packages as we understand not all workplaces have the same needs.
Working with both small and large organisations in the corporate and public sector, we focus on awareness and education for all staff and managers.
But also look to develop internal support with the development of ‘menopause champions’ and peer support such as menopause cafes.
With an aim of developing a workplace culture which is understanding, aware and supportive of women during this transition allowing women to thrive and achieve their potential, with the consequent beneficial impact on their employer.
Lindsey Thomas is a British Menopause Society, specialist doctor and works clinically both in the NHS and privately at Myla Health. As well as working with organisations to develop menopause workplace strategies.
*In this article we use ‘women’ to refer to people assigned female at birth. Not all people experiencing menopause identify as women. Transgender, non-binary and intersex people may experience the menopause.
Lindsey Thomas is a British Menopause Society specialist doctor and works clinically both in the NHS and privately.
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