Ahead of World Menopause Day (Wednesday, 18 October), a leading health expert has warned that women are often confusing menopause symptoms for life-threatening conditions – and is calling on employers to do more to increase workplace education and raise awareness.
Dr Stella George, Chief Medical Officer at global health service company Cigna Healthcare, says businesses could face a major talent drain if they do not offer proper support and care for women going through menopause.
Menopause can mimic many other diseases, and education and awareness is required to help promote greater understanding of some of the lesser-known symptoms and side effects.
Dr Stella George, Cigna Healthcare
As part of the movement to raise awareness in the workplace, Cigna Healthcare has identified five lesser-known symptoms of menopause:
- Numbness and tingling: Individuals have been known to mistake loss of sensation for illnesses such as multiple sclerosis.
- Breast tenderness: Changes in hormone levels can affect the breasts, raising alarm about breast cancer.
- Brain fog / memory issues: Occasional forgetfulness can sometimes mimic early onset dementia.
- Oral health: As a result of less mucous and fluid being produced, as well as reduced bone density in the jaw, the mouth can become drier and teeth can loosen, increasing the risk of infection.
- Mental health: Anxiety and depression related to hormonal imbalances is a big issue that women going through menopause need help with. Seeking help early can be hugely important.
Recent research shows that almost half of women have hidden or lied about their menopause symptoms over fears of how their careers might be impacted*. As menopause affects both physical and mental health in multiple ways, those going through this life change are likely to feel strain in the workplace.
Dr George added:
We need to normalise discussions about the menopause at all levels, and even just acknowledging that this happens is good, because if it’s not being spoken about, women can feel more vulnerable bringing it up in the workplace. You don’t want to lose that talent and experience from the workforce. If you take care of your employees and provide the right help and support, it helps with staff retention and lowers attrition rates.
Cigna Healthcare provides a full suite of menopause tools, resources and medical treatment for employers and employees alike, and Dr George believes that its vital that workplaces help raise awareness of the wide-ranging symptoms and side effects of the process – and provide as much workplace education and advice as possible for those who need it.
Top Five Steps for Better Support
Based on years of experience in healthcare services, Dr George has listed the most important steps businesses need to take to provide better menopause support:
- Spread awareness – Businesses need to promote awareness of menopause, particularly among managers and those in the menopause age group.
- Indicate resources – People need to know what assets are available through the company. A central information point can be very useful, such as a list of all the available information and benefits on the company intranet.
- Promote an open culture – People need an atmosphere in which they can talk freely. Many companies offer counselling and guidance for mental health; for example, Cigna Healthcare has nurses who can offer support and connect people with the right tools.
- Normalise discussion – Leaders who have a voice in the organisation should not hesitate to speak about issues like menopause. For example, managers need to say when they are not feeling well, not only for themselves but also to signal to the team that it is OK to take time off when needed.
- Appoint a workplace champion – Initiatives like ‘Lunch and Learn’ awareness meetings are helpful, or appointing a champion or case manager who can rally women to talk about menopause and explain all the benefits and resources available.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.