Workplace and the menopause – another taboo

Why is the workplace and the menopause still an off-limits topic?

Women now spend over 30% of their careers post menopause. Yet it remains another workplace taboo topic or pink elephant. How should we deal with it? 

workplace and the menopause

When the retirement age for women was 60, not so long ago, professional women aged 50 were in the final stage of their careers.  Now with the retirement age bumped to age 68 and potentially even longer, women have another 18 years of professional activity in front of them. This is over 30% of their total careers.

In the UK, statistics from the to the Department for Work and Pensions, the proportion of women aged 50 to 64 with jobs has risen by more than 50 per cent in the past 30 years. At the same time women are impacted by what can be a significant stage of life challenge, of having to cope with the menopause, which can potentially impact their workplace performance.

Challenges facing menopausal women include difficulty sleeping, hot flushes, reduced concentration, memory loss and hormone imbalance.  This can impact deadlines and increase the number of errors. Women can become more short-tempered and anxious. This hits performance, with all the potential fall out.

25% of women claim menopause made no difference to their lives with another 25% experiencing extreme side effects. 50% therefore are moderately impacted.

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Workplace and the menopause  – what needs to change?

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine  has issued guidelines about how menopause affects some women at work. It also provides straightforward suggestions about what employers and line managers can do to help, as well as tips for women themselves on how to cope. It should be common sense, looking after the well-being of your workforce.  But menopause is very much a taboo subject with many co-workers whether young or male, feeling uncomfortable discussing the issue. They associate it with something their mother might have gone through.  It’s overall a topic that many would rather not know about.

Derek an Inside Sales Manager (aged 32) seemed anguished at the prospect. He gave a typical response:

“I would have no idea how to go about dealing with something like this and suspect I would feel very uncomfortable. Some of my call center operators are the same age as my Mum. I wouldn’t want to discuss it with her either. I would also be terrified of being accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour or something. I would probably refer the person to HR.”

Kylie (22) an intern in an advertising agency visibly blanched when I asked her the question. And then shook her head in horror. Other responses from younger women and all men included “arkward” “embarassing” “cringe-making” “delicate.”

It was only when I asked older women who had either been through the process or were about to, was there a more laid back attitude.

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Timing of the menopause

Menopause also actually happens at the top of a woman’s career which can make it even more difficult. The pressure to be at peak performance comes at a time when hormones are “kicking out” to destabilise nature’s natural balance.

However there are some workplace guidelines to help organisations deal with women experiencing menopause:

  • Temperature and ventilation flexibility
  • Easy access to drinking water
  • Flexible working
  • Changing facilities
  • Provision of additional uniforms where required.
  • Access to medical support or counselling

Many women don’t want to make a big deal out of the menopause for fear of a sexist backlash.  Martina a management accountant said:

that it would give men yet another reason not to promote or sponsor women in the workplace. Many professional people are managing all sorts of life, health or physical challenges after the age of 50. It’s a temporary stage of life and one we need to take in our stride. For those with extreme symptoms normal sick leave benefits should be adequate.   And hey – on the positive side – we can’t get pregnant! All the more reason to hire us! “

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