The landmark Menopause and the Workplace report released in April 2022 from gender equality and women’s rights advocacy, The Fawcett Society, found that most women lack basic menopause support in their workplaces and from their healthcare providers.
What makes this report's findings so concerning is that 77% of the 4,000 women surveyed described one or more of their symptoms as 'very difficult' to experience, the highest they could rate their symptoms.
However, while the report states, “our society’s silence on this is a scandal,” these findings may come as no surprise to yourself or your patients.
Menopause in the workplace
Menopause support in the workplace is next to non-existent, said eight out of 10 surveyed women, with many reporting they felt ignored.
Most of the women (84%) said difficulty sleeping was the main symptom holding them back at work, followed closely by brain fade (73%), and anxiety or depression (69%).
One of the report’s chief findings was 44% said they felt like their work abilities had been affected by problematic symptoms. There’s already growing evidence that menopause alters how women perceive themselves at work, with some losing the confidence they once had to stay on top of their responsibilities. Others find that their productivity is lower than usual.
The other big concern raised in the report was that 79% of these women said they had no support network to lean on, and eight out of 10 said their employers offered no absence policies related to menopause.
The Fawcett Society said more must be done, as there’s consistent evidence that demonstrates a mix of interventions at work can make a big difference for women experiencing menopause, including:
- actively changing work cultures
- providing training and advice to management
- adapting existent absence policies to allow for menopause leave
- flexible work arrangements
- environmental changes.
The women who do have access to menopause support at work confirmed they found these types of interventions to be positive and impactful.
Workplace managers aren’t the only ones leaving women experiencing menopause to “just get on with it”, as The Fawcett Society describes current attitudes. The report said women found their healthcare providers were also failing to deliver adequate support for their symptoms, and one-third said they were struggling to get a diagnosis of perimenopause or menopause without multiple doctor appointments. This increased to 45% for black and minority women.
The Newson Health Menopause Society conducted a similar survey in early 2022, reporting that 18% of UK women visited their doctor six times before getting the help they needed.
The Menopause Charity in the UK suggests that healthcare practitioners are misdiagnosing menopause because of the women who present with less well-known symptoms like low mood and joint pains. At the same time, doctors and patients alike tend to focus on more recognizable concerns like hot flashes, irregular periods, and night sweats.
The change in a woman’s hormones during menopause can also lead to health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS symptoms like constipation and bloating can be linked to low estrogen levels, complicating a menopause diagnosis further. While menopause itself doesn’t cause IBS, multiple studies have shown that hormones may influence the occurrence, or worsening, of abdominal pain and discomfort during menopause, even if a woman hasn’t been diagnosed with IBS before.
It’s important to keep in mind that these types of findings in the report were from women who were seeking a diagnosis: almost half of the report’s respondents said they hadn’t even spoken to their doctor about their symptoms due to the stigma menopause can’t seem to shake.
To help women secure a diagnosis more easily, the report’s recommendations include implementing a public information campaign, such as all UK women in their 40s and 50s should be sent a list of menopause symptoms by the National Health Service (NHS). It also suggested that every woman who is in the perimenopause/menopause age range should be actively invited to speak with their doctor about their symptoms, and doctors should receive mandatory menopause training so women don’t have to work so hard for a diagnosis.
A culture of silence
It could be assumed that some organizations are unsure about how menopause symptoms are impacting their employees and they might even be hesitant to intervene. So, if women spoke up, loudly calling for change, leave policies and allowances could be implemented.
However, menopause's culture of silence and negative stereotypes are so deeply embedded in workplaces worldwide that women are often in no-win positions, powerless to speak up. Instead, the typecast of an emotionally unstable, older woman unable to keep up at work persists.
While many of the surveyed women said they had taken time off work due to menopause symptoms, 39% said they gave anxiety or depression as the reason, rather than share their menopause status with their employer.
The taboo around menopause extends to sick notes—only 30% of women wanted menopause as the reason why they needed time off listed on their note. The Fawcett Society asserted that working-class women were even less likely to cite the real reason.
One of the report’s more distressing findings was that 41% of survey respondents said their menopause symptoms were treated as a joke by colleagues. So, asking women to share details about problematic symptoms with their managers could seem so absurd that they’d rather just push through, resign, or retire early.
Fostering an environment where women experiencing perimenopause or menopause can speak up to affect change is then where the real work is required.
At Mindset Health, we try to practice what we preach. We have implemented a menopause and menstrual leave policy for all employees. As advocates for women experiencing menopause through our Evia hypnotherapy program, we hope other organizations follow our lead of breaking the menopause stigma via implementing real change for women.
The Wrap Up
A new report from UK gender equality advocacy, The Fawcett Society, states that women aged 45 to 55 lack basic menopause support at work. Many also struggle to receive a menopause diagnosis without multiple visits to their doctor. Because of the pervasive stigma that still surrounds menopause, women must be given opportunities to speak up about their menopause experiences and symptoms safely to bring about change.