Work and the menopause – what women need to know
Find out how the menopause affects working women – and what we need to know about it, from Gaele Lalahy, the COO of balance-app.com.
Jemma was a high flyer in her company, she had promotion after promotion, and was on a fast track to become the next CEO. One day, she collapsed at the end of a team meeting, her heart started to race, her legs were failing her, she was unable to think or even move.
In the previous year, Jemma, had experienced many panic attacks, she felt she did not have the clarity of thought she once had, her brain was slow and foggy, she felt she could not perform as well as she used to. She also started to lose her self-belief, and seriously thought about quitting.
Over 90% of menopausal women said their symptoms were affecting their work
In a recent Menopause at work survey from Newson Health on 1,132 women, over 90% of respondents felt that their menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms were having a negative impact on their work. As a result, 31% thought about reducing their working hours and 32% had thought about leaving because of debilitating menopause symptoms.
Hormones are essential for the brain to function and also the heart, bones, skin, joints, muscles, nerves, bladder and vaginal health. However, like Jemma, over a quarter (27%) of women currently experiencing the menopause still know nothing or very little about the emotional and psychological effects of low hormone levels.
And it’s not an age thing! While the average age of the menopause is 51, 1% of women start their menopause before the age of 40. And the perimenopause, which is the time during which a woman still has periods but her hormone levels are starting to reduce, usually starts in your 40s, but can start in your 30s or even earlier.
The menopause is a normal event that affects all women
So what is it then? The menopause is a completely normal event that affects all women. Officially, menopause is when your periods have stopped (for over a year). Hormones start reducing and symptoms often start during the years leading up to this point (perimenopause) and hormones levels are very low in the years after (postmenopause).
As your periods stop, your ovaries produce far less hormones, and therefore the menopause should be thought of as a hormone deficiency. When this happens, as well as periods changing there are many other symptoms appearing because hormones play such a fundamental role throughout your body.
Whilst 20% of women will have no symptoms, another 20% will suffer severely from one or more of the numerous physical and psychological symptoms of the menopause. The most common symptoms are hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, tiredness, insomnia, poor mental focus and concentration, headaches, joint pains, low sex drive and urinary problems causing devastating consequences on careers and lives.
It is vital that women capture their symptoms early with the right evidence-based information and seek help from their healthcare professional so that they can continue to thrive! As menopausal women are the fastest growing group of workers with 4.3 million of us currently employed in the UK, it is no surprise that employers are starting to take this matter into their own hands.
Why your company really needs to take menopause seriously
There are plenty of reasons why your company really needs to take menopause seriously. Here are just some of them.
Loss of talent
In the UK, no less than 14 million working days have been lost because of untreated / undiagnosed menopausal symptoms. Women need to be empowered with information and access the right treatment for them to keep living full lives and flourish in their careers.
As many women do not receive the support they need with their symptoms, around 20% unfortunately choose to leave their job, or ask for part-time work therefore worsening gender inequalities in top positions and increasing the gender pay gap. It is essential for corporates to remove all barriers for experienced women to progress and achieve that balance.
Employers have a duty to ensure that working conditions do not worsen menopausal symptoms, and in some cases, menopausal symptoms can be very debilitating. The menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010, and it is worth noting that the first cases in relation to menopause have been won. Cases related to the menopause have included age, gender and even disability discrimination.
So, what can you do?
So what can you do? Here are some suggestions.
TAKE CHARGE and educate yourself
No one knows your body as well as you. It can be difficult to pinpoint at what time to seek advice or know whether symptoms are related to your hormones. On the balance app, we hear many counts of women, who unfortunately have not had the right advice from their healthcare professional and it’s taken them many years to get a diagnosis.
This is why we wanted to help empower women with unbiased, evidence-based information and knowledge so they can instigate a more efficient diagnosis and push for access to appropriate treatment.
Balance allows women to have personalised expert information, track their symptoms, download their health report to take to their GP or healthcare professional as evidence, and have access to a support community of like-minded women.
Since launch, the response has been phenomenal and the app has already empowered hundreds of thousands of women to have the courage and the knowledge to seek the right treatment for themselves, return to work and truly get their lives back.
Ask for your hormones back!
The menopause should be seen as a hormone deficiency and there is incredibly effective treatment known as HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) to alleviate the symptoms of the perimenopause and the menopause.
Women who take HRT also have a lower risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, dementia, cancer, and HRT is recommended by the NHS as the first line treatment for menopause symptoms because the benefits outweigh the risks for the majority of women. Yet only 10% of women in the UK take HRT – this needs to change!
Make a noise at work
There are also a number of things you can do at work:
- Shake up your board and make them realise the impact that the menopause has on your workforce. Get a top-down approach with buy-in from the CEO.
- Internal comms is essential in your company to break the taboos. Educating women and line managers is vital to ensure conversations are taking place within the right framework, with understanding and the right tools to deliver the best support.
- Create a task-force and build a plan, appoint menopause champions, and offer specific and evidence-based ongoing and specific menopause support solution for your employees.
- Demand access to treatment and consultations in the workplace. Push for the right to have access to specialist advice, treatment and consultations in the workplace, and organised by your company to ensure end to end care for you
The latest Global gender gap report recently published by the World Economic Forum states that at the current relative pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 52.1 years in Western Europe…. 52 years is a long time!
Imagine, if we could prevent these women who think about leaving employment because of their debilitating menopausal symptoms to stay in jobs and thrive as they should, maybe that gender gap could be closed before I retire!
Photo by Lino Ogenio