Early menopause transition reduces women’s ability to work, study finds

Woman suffering with early menopause at work. (Getty Images)
New research has found early menopause transition could impact a woman's ability to work. (Getty Images)

Early menopause transition could impact a woman's ability to work and the time spent in the workforce, new research has suggested.

The study, published in Menopause, the journal of The Menopause Society, set out to evaluate the impact of early menopause on the working ability of those experiencing it.

Early menopause, experienced by approximately 5% to 10% of women, refers to when the menopause transition occurs in a woman aged under 45 years.

Figures estimate around one in 100 people experience the menopause before the age of 40 years.

For the study, which involved nearly 2,700 Finnish women, researchers investigated how women’s menopause status at 46 years of age was associated with their perceived work ability and registered working life participation during subsequent years.

It concluded that an early menopause transition is challenging because it impacts women’s work ability and limits their working life participation.

Based on the results, study authors recommend that healthcare professionals effectively treat menopause symptoms and promote the overall health of women experiencing early onset menopause so that they continue to be productive in the workforce.

They also recommend that employers consider making working conditions more flexible for women undergoing the menopause transition to help them manage their symptoms to limit the risk of them prematurely ending their careers.

"These findings reinforce the importance of addressing bothersome menopause symptoms to optimise a woman's quality of life, both personally and professionally," said Stephanie Faubion, medical director for The Menopause Society.

Work feeling stressed at work. (Getty Images)
Women experiencing menopause and early menopause can experience many symptoms at work. (Getty Images)

How the menopause can impact women at work

While the study specifically looked at the impacts of women undergoing early menopause, the transition to menopause can have significant implications for a woman's work performance and overall wellbeing at any age.

"Fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause can lead to symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings, fatigue, and cognitive changes, all of which may affect concentration, memory, and productivity in the workplace," explains Dr Elise Dallas, GP at www.thelondongeneralpractice.com.

"Additionally, sleep disturbances commonly experienced during this time can further exacerbate these challenges."

With those entering early menopause Dr Dallas says there could be a potential loss of fertility, when family planning isn't complete, which could further intensify the emotional strain.

A further additional pressure is that of feeling alone and the only one going through it.

"One particularly sensitive aspect is the impact on femininity and self-image," Dr Dallas continues. "Menopause can lead to changes in body composition and can trigger feelings of ageing or losing a sense of identity. It can be common to feel even more isolated than a woman going through menopause in her midlife."

Woman in a meeting at work. (Getty Images)
There are many symptoms of menopause that can have an impact on a woman's ability to work. (Getty Images)

It isn't just women going through early menopause who find their career impacted either.

"Although menopause is an entirely natural phase of life, women still go to great lengths to conceal their menopausal experiences and symptoms from family, friends and colleagues," explains Michelle Robinson Hayes, mental health trainer and preventative services lead, Vita Health Group.

"Fear of being judged, fear of being seen as incapable or incompetent, and fear that menopause and its accompanying symptoms could negatively impact their career - are just some of the reasons many women suffer in silence at work.

"In fact, for some women, the mental and physical symptoms of menopause - such as hot flushes, headaches, sweating, brain fog, erratic moods and negative emotions - can be so overwhelming and distressing they feel they are left with no other option but to quit their job and leave the workplace all altogether," she continues.

A report from the Fawcett Society showed that one in 10 women who worked during the menopause has left a job due to their symptoms and a quarter of employees experiencing menopause are likely to retire early because of it.

"More shocking statistics from the report show that there are 14 million working days lost in the UK to menopause a year," Robinson Hayes adds.

How to cope with early menopause/perimenopause at work

Thankfully, there are some ways for women who do find themselves experiencing perimenopause or an early menopause transition to cope at work.

Prioritise self-care

It's essential for women experiencing these symptoms to prioritise self-care. "This includes getting adequate rest, practising stress-management techniques such as mindfulness or deep breathing exercises, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and nutritious diet," Dr Dallas suggests.

Ensure open communication

Communicate with your employer or supervisor about your menopausal symptoms and how they may impact your work. "Establishing an open dialogue can lead to accommodations or adjustments that support your productivity and wellbeing," Dr Dallas adds.

Utilise resources

Take advantage of resources available in the workplace, such as employee assistance programs or wellness initiatives, that may offer support for managing menopausal symptoms and promoting overall wellbeing. Dr Dallas says The Daisy foundation is an excellent resource for early or premature menopause.

Woman having a hot flush at work. (Getty Images)
Experts suggest asking for adjustments to help with menopause symptoms. (Getty Images)

Consider lifestyle modifications

Dr Dallas suggests trying to make improvements in four main areas - nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress. "I am very much an advocate of lifestyle modification working on all four pillars - excellent nutrition (ensuring enough vitamin D and calcium and omega 3 and magnesium and keeping cholesterol down), exercise (weight bearing for bones and cardiovascular for the heart), ensuring a good nights sleep and enhancing stress and wellbeing," she explains.

Workplace training

Lauren Chiren, CEO and founder of Women of a Certain Stage suggests recommending menopause training to your employer or HR team. "Having access to qualified menopause coaches can help employers to understand menopause, learn how to talk about it and signpost effective help and support means that they can better support their employees, and increase retention rates and engagement," she explains.

Request workplace adjustments

Chiren says simple accommodations like access to temperature control, flexible working hours, and supportive colleagues can significantly improve the work experience for employees going through menopause.

Consider non-hormonal medications

Dr Dallas says various non-hormonal medications can help with symptoms. "Acupuncture, meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy and yoga have all found to be helpful," she adds.

Menopause: Read more

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