The 3 top concerns menopausal women have in the workplace, according to study

Shot of stressed businesswoman sitting at her desk and holding head with hand.
Women undergoing menopause have reported feeling worries about how their symptoms might impact their ability to work. (Getty Images)

Menopause is a normal part of women’s lives, but it wasn’t until recently that in-depth research has revealed how it affects their daily activities and working schedules.

A new study by the University of Westminster, titled Understanding Menopause at Westminster, has provided a closer look at women’s biggest concerns over how this period of their lives will impact their career.

Most women go through menopause in mid-life, with the average age for British women being 51. However, some women can start experiencing symptoms of menopause up to 10 years later, which is known as perimenopause.

Going through menopause marks the natural end of menstruation, as hormone levels drop as we get older. However, there are times when menopause happens because of medical reasons, such as undergoing oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) or hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), or cancer treatments.

The Women of Westminster Colleagues Network (WoW), in collaboration with researchers Dr Anna Cheshire and Dr Tina Cartwright from the School of Social Sciences, and researcher Penny Clark, formerly from Westminster, launched the report earlier this week.

The report came after the university came across research showing that more than half (59%) of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 with menopause symptoms are negatively impacted at work, resulting in many of them feeling reluctant to tell anyone about their symptoms out of fear they will be discriminated against.

Menopausal mature woman wearing green dress sitting at the desk in the office in front of computer, having hot flashes and using hand fan.
Symptoms like hot flushes, painful joints and anxiety can hinder a menopausal person's ability to work. (Getty Images)

Westminster surveyed 169 people and held focus groups and interviews with 21 others, and found almost a third (30%) had reported significant impacts from their symptoms.

The three concerns menopausal women say affect their work:

1. Lowered productivity and needing time off

Symptoms like joint and muscle discomfort, anxiety and sleep issues can affect a person’s ability to be productive and may result in needing to take time off to recuperate

2. Negative impact on career progression

Respondents said they worried about their managers not understanding their symptoms or having a personal loss of confidence, which could affect their chances of getting promotions or being involved in projects at work

3. Challenges in handling certain work situations

Having menopause symptoms like hot flushes and being increasingly irritable could cause some people to struggle with some interactions with their colleagues or managers.

The report emphasised the need for managers to play a key role in supporting their staff who might be going through menopause - but most survey participants appear unsure of whether they will get the support they need, as they had not disclosed their menopause symptoms to their manager.

The impact of menopause at work

The findings come after researchers said that more than a million women in the UK could be forced to quit their jobs last year because of a lack of support from their employers as they undergo menopause.

In a survey of 2,000 women aged 45 to 67, commissioned by Koru Kids last year, nearly three-quarters said their workplace did not have a space where they could discuss menopause openly with their colleagues or employers.

A quarter (24%) of the women surveyed said they were unhappy in their jobs because of the lack of support. A much larger percentage (63%) said their workplace had not introduced any menopause-related policy that would help them stay in their jobs.

Another 2022 survey by Dr Lousie Newson, founder of menopause library balance, found that the vast majority (99%) of respondents said their symptoms from perimenopause or menopause led to a negative impact on their careers.

Meanwhile, more than half (59%) said they had taken time off work because of their symptoms. Over a fifth (21%) passed on the chance to go for a promotion they would otherwise have considered, while 19% reduced their working hours and 12% resigned from their jobs.

What does the law say about menopause at work?

Businesswoman leading office discussion
Employers are being encouraged to offer support to female workers going through menopause. (Getty Images)

Although menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, age is - this means that employees and workers are protected from being put at a disadvantage or treated less favourably because of their age.

According to workplace rights organisation Acas, this means that employees and workers are protected from less favourable treatment because they’re going through menopause, because this is usually related to the age of the person.

Acas also advises that, in some cases, menopause could be considered a disability under discrimination law, and employers must make reasonable adjustments to reduce or remove any disadvantages they might experience because of this.

The Women and Equalities Committee published recommendations for the UK government in its first special report on menopause and the workplace, and urged ministers to produce "model menopause policies" to give employers clear guidance on how they can support employees.

Such a model menopause policy would cover "how to request reasonable adjustments and other support; advice on flexible working; sick leave for menopause symptoms; and provisions for education, training and building a supportive culture".

But in its response in January, the government did not accept the recommendation as it does "not believe a model menopause policy is necessary at this moment".

It added: "The government agrees with the committee that there is much that employers can and should do to help their employees experiencing the menopause. We are supportive of the aim to educate and inform employers and workplace colleagues about the potential symptoms of the menopause, and how they can support women at work."

The government did, however, commit to "the appointment of a menopause employment champion to drive forward work with employers on menopause workplace issues and to spearhead the proposed collaborative employer-led campaign as outlined in the independent report".

Watch: More than half of women didn’t know that bladder leakage is a symptom of the menopause, according to research

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