It is estimated that the menopause is costing the UK economy to the staggering tune of around £10b from the 14m working days lost every year due to menopause symptoms and the number of women leaving the workforce because of a lack of menopause awareness or support in the workplace, coupled with the financial and time implications of replacing them.
Menopausal age women, between 45 and 54, make up 11% of the UK working demographic and 23% of all women in employment (TUC, 2021), with 4.3m women aged 50-65 in the workforce, many holding senior positions. Given these statistics, it’s fair to say that menopause in the workplace should be high on every business’s strategic agenda. Women are struggling to balance work demands and the physical, psychological and emotional symptoms of perimenopause and menopause – according to the British Menopause Society, 45% of women reported that menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work life, with the Fawcett Society report stating one in ten women have left their job due to menopause symptoms.
A survey carried out by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that one in three working women have been negatively impacted by menopause symptoms. Of those affected, nearly a third have had to take sick leave due to their symptoms, but 75% felt unable to disclose the real reason for their absence, citing privacy, embarrassment and unsupportive management as the top three reasons. An ongoing stigma and lack of proper support in this area could mean more women leaving work at the peak of their careers, impacting both gender diversity at senior management level and gender pay-gap levels.
Other interesting statistics include:
- 13m women (around a third of the UK female population) are currently in the perimenopause or menopause stage
- 9 out 10 women were never educated about menopause
- Over 60% of women researched menopause after symptoms had already started
- 88% of menopausal women would like more support from their workplace
- 1 in 4 women consider leaving their job due to menopause
- 4 in 5 employers don’t consider menopause during an appraisal
- 52% of women have lost confidence
- 2 in 3 women would like more support from their employers
Menopause is a natural transition period in a women’s life when the oestrogen levels produced by the ovaries decline and she longer releases an egg each month. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts around 7 years. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, although symptoms can start in the mid 30s with perimenopause and continue well into the mid 50s. Menopause is reached when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. Every woman’s menopause journey is personal, with symptoms varying in duration and severity.
According to the British Menopause Society, more than 75% of women are affected by menopause symptoms, with over 25% experiencing severe symptoms that impact their daily lives.
There are 48 symptoms of menopause but research carried out by GenM highlighted that 51% of women can only name 3 of them.
Widely recognised associated physical symptoms can include fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty getting to sleep and sleep disruption, loss of libido, vaginal dryness, breasts feeling sore or tender, urgency to urinate and loss of bladder control, migraines, weight gain and bloating, along with mental health symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, reduced concentration, mood swings and lack of motivation.
There are, however, also a plethora of symptoms that may be less well known including cold flushes, muscle and joint pain, frequent UTIs, thinning hair, changes in body odour, acne, tooth decay, dry eyes, dry mouth, brittle nails, heart palpitations, changes in vision, hearing and taste, itchy skin due to a decline in oestrogen levels affecting collagen production, tender, numb or burning sensations in the mouth, new allergies from accelerated histamine production, dizziness or vertigo due to hormonal changes affecting the production of insulin and blood sugar levels and tingling in hands and feet caused by hormonal fluctuations affecting the central nervous system.
Should employers be treating the cause rather than managing the symptoms?
Over the last 5 years we have seen more organisations introducing menopause policies, providing menopause education and coaching, establishing menopause support groups and appointing menopause champions. Even though this is a huge step in the right direction, we are not seeing many organisations really getting to the root cause of addressing menopause symptoms that are negatively impacting women’s contribution in the workplace and in turn overall business performance.
The level of menopause support at work varies considerably across different organisations and industries. Although menopause awareness has increased dramatically over recent years, along with the understanding of symptoms and the associated negative impact on employee wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity, the statistics mentioned earlier highlight that businesses could learn from proven tools such as root cause analysis (RCA) with regards to managing menopause in the workplace. Employers really need to be identifying the cause of the issue and addressing it with appropriate solutions rather than merely managing the symptoms.
Supporting employees by providing access to treatment for hormonal imbalances caused during perimenopause and menopause, would seem to me to be the next logical step, as with any other occupational health issue negatively impacting business performance. A staff member with a bad back for instance, might be offered adjustments to their workspace like an ergonomic chair, given approved time off work, referred to occupational health or offered an appropriate course of treatment such as physiotherapy.
Surely it should be no different when dealing with menopause. Solutions for me would include businesses extending their benefits packages and occupational health providers referring women suffering with menopause symptoms to clinical menopause specialists for timely and gold standard treatment and support.
Menopause specialists like Bodyline Medical Wellness Clinics have the advantage of understanding the complexities of treating and supporting women with menopause symptoms that evolve during perimenopause and in the transition into menopause. Symptoms can vary in severity at different stages, so it is essential to monitor and rebalance the hormones throughout the journey. In some circumstances this can be done with a wellness prescription including lifestyle advice, nutrition support and vitamin and supplement recommendations. In other cases, a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescription including oestrogen, progesterone and/or testosterone is required. It is widely acknowledged that HRT benefits far outweigh any potential risk and clinically evidenced that oestrogen replacement has further benefits for heart, brain and bone health.
By treating the complex root cause of menopausal hormonal imbalances, women could benefit from longer careers, healthier middle age and improved working lives. And, in a highly competitive talent market, businesses would be able to attract and retain highly experienced pool of menopausal employees.
Benefits of menopause awareness to businesses
With healthier employees equating to happier employees, and therefore increased productivity, a reduction in sickness days, an increase in presenteeism and lowered health care premiums, forward thinking organisations should now be turning their attention to health and wellbeing as a way to enhance their company profile, attract new female talent, retain skilled female employees, reduce the risk of early retirement, mitigate tribunal and legal claims, reduced the costs of replacing staff lost due to the menopause and gain emotional, financial and competitive advantage.
The introduction of an optimal care pathway for women suffering with significant menopause symptoms will not only work towards reducing stigma around menopause but also increase performance, enhance confidence, encourage an inclusive workplace culture, boost morale and employee engagement and improve wider colleague and team relations, as well as potentially leading to improved productivity and profitability monetarised at of over half a billion pounds per year.
Sally-Ann Turner is the Founder and Managing Director of Bodyline Medical Wellness Clinics. Passionate about providing tailored medical wellness treatments and industry-leading clinical support that make a positive difference to people's lives, she is currently working across industry sectors to innovate women's health solutions that deliver better patient outcomes through perimenopause and menopause.