Content Warning

This report includes advice and expert opinion on perimenopause and menopause but is no substitute for medical advice. It also includes references to menopausal symptoms. If you are affected by menopause, contact your GP for advice.

Introduction

Menopause in the workplace is traditionally a taboo subject. For many years it was more likely you’d have heard it called ‘the change’ and it was rare that women would speak about their experiences, let alone speak up in the workplace about how those experiences were affecting them and their careers day-to-day.

But a new wave of menopause discussion has been growing, steadily over the past five or so years, and now women are not just chatting, or discussing, they are calling for change in both the workplace and Government policy. This report will look at the definition of menopause – including the often-overlooked perimenopause – and how it impacts women in the workplace. We will speak to experts about their lived experiences, their worries and their solutions to a stage of life that happens to every single woman and non-binary person assigned female at birth.

The NHS website defines menopause as when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier. It’s also worth noting that menopause can begin at different times – after surgery to remove ovaries or the uterus, the NHS clarifies that Perimenopause is when you have symptoms of menopause but your periods have not stopped. Perimenopause ends and you reach menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.

That’s important for any women who are reading this and have wondered themselves if they are perimenopausal or menopausal. In short, it’s clear that understanding menopause is essential in a business context, as it can impact female employees' wellbeing and productivity. But the issue of menopause way beyond ‘impact’ on work or business day-to-day; women are leaving their jobs because of menopause, choosing to quit because it’s the easiest solution to a change in their physical and mental state, which means that they just don’t feel they can do their jobs any more. That’s a huge chunk of your workforce leaving because they aren’t able to find support, or don’t feel able to speak up about what they’re going through. And that’s where HR can make a huge, groundbreaking difference.

Nigel Denby is a registered dietitian and has specialised in menopause for 25 years. When the pandemic hit, face-to-face consultations ended, and he set up a Facebook group to carry on supporting women. It now has 75,000 women.

He explains: “Perimenopause and menopause are interchangeable. Menopause is literally that moment in time when you have gone for twelve months without a period. But perimenopause can go on for ten years before that, and that’s when usually your symptoms are presenting, changing and getting worse. By the time the periods actually stop, the hormones are beginning to calm down. It’s those years beforehand, where one minute you could be going up in a lift to deliver a presentation and by the time you get to the floor, you can’t remember your own name. The average age for that to start is about 46, but it can start for women in their late 30s. Often women are wandering around desperately trying to disguise anything is happening, terrified they’re beginning to get Alzheimer’s, or that they’re depressed, or burned out.”

Women are quitting their jobs because of menopause – that’s the bottom line. Gaele Lalahy, COO of menopause support app, Balance, which works with corporates to bring understanding and training to the workplace. She says: “I have seen many of my colleagues, around 45, 50, just leave, just go. And I realised that’s why I never had any role models. Lots of companies have launched female leadership programmes but nobody seems to be looking at the why. One of the reasons is, of course, lack of understanding of menopause and the impact it has on women leaving the workforce, or going part-time, but they feel they can’t live their lives any more.”

And that’s where HR can come in.

A new white paper Pause for Thought: Reflecting on Menopause and the Workplace, has shed new light on women’s experiences. Using a combination of desk research and quantitative research 2000 quantitative online surveys were undertaken, of which 304 were with working women aged over 45.

And one of the key themes highlighted was the ‘confusion and lack of understanding about what menopause means for women in the workplace’.

It’s easy to think of a menopausal woman in the workplace needing to go to meetings, or be working from home, sat a desk, but of course, women are experiencing peri and menopause across all different sectors. From those who are sitting in boardrooms, through to those who are customer-facing in retail, or service-based jobs such as nursing, as well as those who work in leadership, managing teams, driving vehicles or running their own business, small or large.

“Our whole ethos is about supporting real women,” says Nigel. “We’ve worked hard to exploit the narrative and reassure women HRT is a safe option. The reality is, any decent menopause doctor or specialist will tell you that you’ll only get the most out of your HRT if you review your lifestyle at the same time, making some tweaks and adjustments for this new body. Because that’s what this is – a totally different body to the one that the woman had previously. Oestrogen is involved with every cell in the body. As oestrogen levels drop – and they’ll never come back to the levels they were previously, even with HRT – everything needs now, a new approach. You’re not able to spin the plates in the way you did previously. Something has to give, or you are going to give.”

Meet our Experts

 

Mariella Frostrup
Menopause campaigner and Chair of the Women in Work Summit 2023

Dr Beth Thomas
GP with specialist interest in women’s health and the menopause, representing Managing the Menopause

Kate Usher
Menopause & Gender Equity Consultant, author of ‘Your Second phase: reclaiming work and relationships during and after menopause’

Gaele Lalahy
COO of menopause support app, balance

Nigel Denby
Dietician, menopause specialist and speaker at Pause Live! 2023, an exhibition and dedicated consumer event to educate and support

Kathy Abernethy MClinSci RN
Founding Clinician and Menopause Specialist at Peppy

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