Supporting menopausal women at work

A new report is due to be published soon calling for more help for women coping with the menopause at work. The menopause can cause symptoms such as, hot flushes, difficulty in sleeping, palpitations, headaches, mood swings, anxiety and depression, as well as problems with memory and concentration. On average, symptoms can be present for approximately four years, but for 10% of women it can last up to 12 years.  There is treatment available in the form of HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), which can reduce some of the symptoms, however, this treatment is not suitable or available for every woman. Other treatment options are aimed at keeping the symptoms as manageable as possible.

Each individual’s experience of the menopause is likely to be different. For some, the symptoms are minimal, for others it can be quite debilitating. In 2011 a study by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation explored women’s experience of working through the menopause. The findings showed that many women were little prepared for the arrival of the menopause, and even less equipped to manage its symptoms at work.  Heavy and painful periods, hot flushes, mood disturbances, fatigue and poor concentration posed significant and embarrassing problems for some women, leaving them feeling less confident. Women felt that workplaces and working practices are not designed with menopausal women in mind. Due to the nature of the symptoms some women said they worked really hard to overcome their perceived shortcomings, while others considered working part-time, although they were concerned about the impact on their career if they did so, or even thought about leaving the labour force altogether.

Although many women find their own coping strategies (such as obtaining fans, opening windows, bringing a change of clothes, sleeping longer at the weekend), employers could provide more assistance and support during what is, for many, a difficult time. Employers can help by communicating to their workforce that health-related problems such as the menopause are ‘normal’.  This could include:

  • greater awareness of managers about the menopause as a possible occupational health issue for women
  • increased flexibility of working hours and working arrangements
  • better access to informal and formal sources of support, such as their GP or occupational health advisor
  • improvements in workplace temperature and ventilation
  • Risk assessments should consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that the working environment doesn’t make their symptoms worse, such as temperature and ventilation, toilet facilities and access to cold water.

More information can be found in this useful  TUC booklet and BOHRF guide for managers on supporting people through the menopause. For any advice on managing the menopause in your workplace or for any other occupational health advice, call us now.

On December 7, 2015, posted in: Occupational Health Posts by