Brain fog, hot flushes, and anxiety are just a few of the many menopause symptoms experienced by women. And while these symptoms can have a devastating impact on all aspects of a woman’s life – many find them particularly difficult to deal with at work. If this sounds familiar, then it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Research shows that 77% of women agree that menopause can negatively impact a woman’s performance at work, and 67% her career.
Sadly, too many women with symptoms of the menopause also feel unsupported in the workplace – which can lead to additional stress, and may even make their symptoms worse.
If your menopause symptoms are getting in the way of your job or career and you’re struggling to cope, then there are some things you can do to help.
Below we’ll take a closer look at some of the problems menopausal women are facing at work, and what you could do to start feeling more comfortable and confident.
The impact of menopause symptoms on women in the workplace
Some of the most common physical symptoms reported by women during menopause, include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Changes to flow/frequency of periods
- Low energy levels
- Weight gain
- Joint aches
- Loss of sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Increased urinary frequency/urgency
“I was chairing meetings and thinking ‘Please don’t let me have a hot flush’. The more I was thinking about it, I was getting more anxious. And thinking everyone is going to be looking at me thinking ‘Oh she’s obviously menopausal’.”
– Woman, Post- menopausal, Chesterfield (BritainThinks and MyMenopauseCentre)
The psychological symptoms are less well known and can impact work life in particular. These can include:
- Mood changes
- Difficulty with memory/forgetfulness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depression/feeling low
- Brain fog
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Lack of motivation
“I was in the car driving to the next village sat at the traffic lights thinking ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’… I was a busy women, I’ve had four children and helped my husband run his business and I just feel so useless.”
– Woman, Currently menopausal, Glasgow (BritainThinks and MyMenopauseCentre)
Though there are 4.3 million women aged 50-65 in the workplace, many in senior roles – menopause is still something that is unmentioned and misunderstood in many workplaces. This can place quite a burden on the women who are attempting to cope with menopause symptoms – as not only is their health suffering, but they also feel that they must struggle in silence, and simply ‘get on with things’ to avoid making a fuss.
This lack of support can actually make symptoms worse, and research from a 2021 report by MyMenopauseCentre and BritainThinks found that:
77% of the menopausal women interviewed agreed that the menopause can negatively impact a woman’s performance at work.
67% agreed menopause can negatively impact a woman’s career.
Just 1 in 4 said they felt prepared for the menopause.
Over half agreed that they underestimated the physical and emotional symptoms of the menopause.
- Those who said they felt prepared had a better experience of the menopause.
Studies also suggest that, amongst those experiencing symptoms, for some women their symptoms are leading them to consider reducing their hours, leaving their jobs altogether, or are the reason they have left their jobs.
Further to this, a 2018 STUC Women’s Committee survey found that menopause was regularly treated negatively in the workplace (32% of respondents), or as a joke (63% of respondents). So, it’s perhaps unsurprising that women may also worry about losing their jobs for calling in sick, or if menopause symptoms are affecting their performance.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that every workplace is different, and that there are an increasing number of workplaces implementing menopause policies and offering support to women going through menopause. Examples of some companies who are leading the way on this are Channel 4 and Publicis.Poke.
6 tips to help you take control of menopause symptoms at work
While menopause symptoms can be frustrating (and at times, impossible) to manage at work, we’ve put together a list of tips that will hopefully help you to take back some control – and feel happier and more confident as a result.
1. Do talk about menopause at work
There are many reasons why you might find it difficult to talk to your employer about menopause. For example, it can sometimes feel trickier to speak to a male or younger manager about your experiences. You might also feel embarrassed, or feel that the matter is too private to bring up with your employer – especially if you don’t know your manager particularly well.
Rather than speaking to your line manager directly, you might find it easier to have a conversation with your HR or the occupational health department about what the organisation can do to help support you. If you work for a company that doesn’t have either of these departments, and you feel concerned about speaking to your line manager directly, then there are some things that you can do to make this conversation feel more manageable.
The first is to keep in mind (although difficult) that you have nothing to be ashamed of or feel embarrassed about. There are women across the country going through the same transition, many of whom will also be trying to find the courage to have similar conversations at work.
The second is to make sure that you’re aware of your rights, and of how menopause fits into the law. Not only do employers have a duty of care to look after the health and wellbeing of their employees (Health and Safety at Work Act 1974), but in the eyes of the law, treating a woman unfairly because she’s experiencing menopause symptoms is a form of discrimination. Menopause is covered by the Equality Act 2010 under the protected characteristics of age, gender, and disability – and this historical 2012 case was the first to prove this.
It can also be helpful to have some suggestions ready for your employer on ways they can help you to manage your menopause symptoms – for example, allowing you to move to a desk near a window, so that you can stay cooler during hot flushes, or allowing you to be more flexible with your work schedule. Our menopause guidelines for employers offers more examples of support that employers can offer, and could act as a helpful conversation starter.
2. Speak to your GP, or to a menopause specialist
As well as speaking to your employer about how they can offer you effective support at work, it’s also a good idea to speak to your GP if you’re experiencing menopause symptoms (you can request a female doctor if preferred). They’ll be able to talk you through options for managing them, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or lifestyle changes.
If you need to request a medical certificate from your GP because you need to take time off work due to menopause symptoms, then it’s worth checking that your certificate states this. If your manager sees that you’re off work with anxiety, and there is no mention of menopause, then they could miss out on an opportunity to offer you further help and support in this area.
GPs can also inform you whether a particular symptom is likely to be due to menopause alone, or whether it could be contributed to by something else. For instance, if you’re feeling particularly tired, then it could be that you are deficient in an essential nutrient like vitamin B12 or iron. Your doctor will be able to determine these sorts of things with a simple blood test.
You can find your nearest GP surgery on the NHS website.
Alternatively, you could consider seeing a menopause specialist, who will be fully equipped to help you manage any physical or emotional symptoms that are affecting your quality of life. You can find a list of menopause specialists recognised by the British Menopause Society (BMS) here.
3. Make a to-do list and set reminders
If forgetfulness is making work feel more difficult, then it can help to start your day by creating a list of all the tasks you need to complete. This will hopefully allow you to feel more in control of your workload and alleviate any worries about forgetting to do important tasks. You can also reinforce your to-do list by using your computer or smartphone to create electronic reminders.
4. Use cooling products
Research conducted by the British Menopause Society tells us that 79% of menopausal women surveyed have reported having hot flushes. While hot flushes can be particularly difficult to deal with in a work environment, there are some things that you can do to help yourself stay cool.
Many women find it useful to have a fan on their desk at work, and to use cooling scarves and/or sprays. Some women have also started to invest in clothing with anti-flush technology – which cools skin, wicks away sweat, and controls odour.
It’s also important to make sure that you get some fresh air while at work; whether that means taking a walk at lunchtime, or sitting as close as you can to an open window.
5. Practice deep breathing techniques
There might be times when you feel tearful, overwhelmed, and anxious, making even small tasks feel like hard work. When everything feels like it’s getting on top of you – as simple as it sounds – it can help to stop and take some deep breaths. Deep breathing techniques can have a transformative effect and take you from feeling like you’re about to explode, to feeling ready to tackle whatever’s next on your to-do list.
The reason for this is that when we’re anxious or stressed, many of us take shorter, shallower breaths – also known as chest breathing. Chest breathing reduces the quality of our oxygen exchange and keeps the body tense. By countering these short, shallow breaths with long, deep ones, we can trick our bodies into reversing its feelings of anxiety, and feel soothed and calmed instead.
You might want to have a read of our article 3 breathing exercises to practice when you feel stressed or anxious to learn more. Alternatively, Yoga and Tai Chi are also helpful for exploring and practicing deep breathing techniques.
6. Listen to menopause-related podcasts - they can help you feel less alone
If you’re ever feeling alone, or as though you need a distraction from how you’re feeling, then you could try listening to podcasts – either at work, or on your commute. Even listening to them at home could help to make you feel more empowered when you head into work each day.
These podcasts can help to equip you with more knowledge about the changes that your body is going through, allow you to hear from other women who are going through similar experiences, and get tips and advice.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start, then you might want to check out The Happy Menopause podcast, available to listen to with a free basic Spotify account. Alternatively, My Menopause Doctor has a free podcast series on a wide range of menopause topics, from menopause at work through to the benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Top tips for line managers: How to make menopause a topic for open discussion in the workplace
1. Ask women what you can do to help
If a staff member comes to you to discuss her menopause symptoms and ask for support – ask her what you can do to help her. Every woman is different, so even if you have previously had similar conversations about menopause with other female staff members, the solution might not be the same.
2. Accept that you might know very little (or nothing at all) about the menopause, but show your staff that you are willing to learn
It’s natural to avoid certain conversations through fear of saying the wrong thing, but this keeps the menopause taboo alive. You could start by being honest and saying, “I don’t know much about menopause, so I’m sorry (and please let me know) if anything I’m about to say comes across as offensive…” In general, staff members are more likely to appreciate the fact that you took the time to address an issue that is important to them than to pretend it’s not happening, and to therefore take no action to support them.
3. Implement a menopause policy
Having a menopause policy in place is a great way to reassure women who are going through menopause that there is support available for them. However, it’s not enough to simply write up and publish a policy. You’ll also need to put the work in to implement it, and to create a compassionate and open environment where women feel that menopause isn’t something that they have to keep to themselves, and/or struggle with alone.
Policies could include things like menopause awareness training for all employees – and separate training for line managers, so that they can learn how to best support women with menopause symptoms. It might also include flexible working patterns, the provision of desk fans (to help women stay cool during hot flushes), or offering a cool, quiet space where women can go to deal with symptoms.
For more tips and advice on how to implement a menopause policy, you can read our article here.
4. Learn as much as you can about menopause
Though menopause symptoms can be incredibly difficult to deal with at work, it can be comforting to remind yourself that you’re not alone.
The fact that menopause is still a taboo subject in many workplaces can leave women feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or like they are the problem. When in reality, employers should be doing everything that they can to support women through what can be a particularly stressful and lonely time. This involves creating an environment where women can engage in open and honest conversations about how their symptoms are affecting their work, and what can be done to help.
We hope that some of the points in this list will offer you a helpful place to start when exploring ways to manage menopause symptoms in the workplace. But if you’d like some help and advice, you might want to have a read of our article, Managing your menopause journey – or you could try visiting some of the websites below.
Where can I find further information about menopause?
MyMenopauseCentre is a site that raises awareness of the menopause, and aims to empower women to take control of their menopause.
This CIPD guide for line managers offers advice on what managers need to know about the menopause to effectively support their team.
Henpicked offers women a place to have their say, and hopefully bring about positive change.
Menopause in the workplace is a website offering training, e-learning, and resources.
Talking menopause aims to help you get your organisation talking about menopause.
Menopause Matters has information, tips, and advice on all menopausal matters.
The Menopause Cafe encourages people across the UK to get together over a cup of tea and talk about menopause.
The Daisy Network is a charity that provides support for women who are going through early menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
Are you finding it difficult to cope with menopause symptoms at work? Has your employer been supportive? Could your employer do more? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.