Around the age of 50 years, women begin to experience a drastic change in their bodies—hot flashes, insomnia and anxiety—all signs of the onset of menopause. Dealing with this new body chemistry can represent an unsettling disruption in women’s daily routine, including work. Naturally, the impact of menopause in the workplace should be an important discussion, considering it affects half our work force. But menopause continues to be a taboo topic in offices, even though 59% of women report adverse effects on their professional lives in early stages of menopause, according to a CIPD study.
Women over 50 are the fastest growing group in the workforce—which should come as no surprise as the retirement age in the UK is fast increasing, with government plans to raise it from 65 to 67 by 2028. At the same time, menopause occurs on average between the ages of 45 and 55, firmly imbedding it as a part of women’s working life. In fact, there are 3.5 million women in the UK working over the age of 50 (NHS), and 8 in 10 menopausal women are in work.
Menopause is no short fleet—it lasts an average of 7 years, and 3 in 4 women experience the uncomfortable symptoms. The most common and pressing issues are trouble concentrating, higher stress levels, trouble sleeping and hot flashes. While bodily changes might warrant some adjustments in working life, 34% of women feel too embarrassed to share their reasons for taking sick leave if it relates to menopause. Women often feel uncomfortable discussing these issues with colleagues that might hold stigmas or struggle to relate, for example if their boss happens to be a younger male.
Discussion in the workplace around menopause can have a huge impact on how women tackle this period of their lives. The CIPD recommends line managers be trained in having sensitive conversations with employees going through menopause. Only 32% of women said that they chose not to share that menopause was the reason behind their sick leave because of an unsupportive manager—it may not always be that employers are unsupportive, just in the dark on how to offer help.
Although there is still a long way to go to integrate menopausal women into the workplace fully, there are things being done to get the ball rolling. British MPs have been vocal on the issue. Labour MP Carolyn Harris says “You wouldn’t dream of having a workplace where people weren’t entitled to certain things because they were pregnant, and it’s exactly the same for women with the menopause. I firmly believe there should be legislation to make sure every workplace has a menopause policy, just like they have a maternal policy”.
We are still in the process of pumping this kind of legislation out here in the UK. The Equality Act 2010, however, has some protections that can help menopausal women. It states that people should not be discriminated against due to their age, gender or disabilities. You are legally within your right to demand provisions to be made for your conditions as someone going through menopause, so speak up! Let’s start conversations and break down the stigma.
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