Women's health: menopause

If menopause symptoms are negatively affecting your work, there are lots of things that can help

Menopause commonly occurs between 45 and 55 but can affect women of different ages, trans non-binary and intersex people

What is the menopause?

Menopause is when your periods stop because of lower hormone levels. It is part of the natural ageing process for women and most commonly occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Between 1 and 10 per cent experience an early menopause – before the age of 40.

Trans, non-binary and intersex people can also experience the menopause. 

For some people, menopause presents little or no problems, while others experience a range of symptoms bad enough to affect their physical and/or mental health. Common symptoms are hot flushes, sleep difficulties, night sweats, low mood or anxiety, and problems with memory or concentration, but there are many other potential symptoms, as listed by the NHS.

For many people, symptoms last about four years, but in some cases they can go on for much longer.

If you are unsure whether you are going through menopause or what can help to relieve your symptoms, lots of useful information is available in the NHS guidance on menopause at work.

If your symptoms are very problematic, you should seek advice from your GP on possible treatment options.

How menopause can affect you at work

Many women find their menopause symptoms lead to problems at work, such as tiredness, discomfort caused by hot flushes and excess sweating, difficulty in concentrating, increased stress or anxiety, and loss of confidence. It can also be a difficult topic to talk about at work.

Symptoms can in turn be exacerbated by work and the work environment, such as where there is:

  • poor ventilation
  • poorly controlled temperature
  • inadequate light
  • excessive noise
  • lack of access to toilets
  • synthetic or restrictive workwear
  • long work shifts

Many people end up taking time off work because of their symptoms, or because of the impact of their work environment, which can negatively affect their sickness absence record. Others find it necessary to cut their hours, forgo promotion or even leave work altogether. 

These problems can be exacerbated by attitudes and lack of support at the workplace, meaning very few women suffering symptoms seek workplace adjustments.

What your employer should do

Your employer is legally responsible for your health and welfare at work. They must conduct a risk assessment, which should include specific risks for women going through the menopause, and must remove or minimise any risks.

Employment relations service Acas recommends employers review:

  • the temperature and ventilation of the workplace
  • the material and fit of the uniform, if there is one, and whether it might make staff going through the menopause feel too hot or cause discomfort
  • whether there is somewhere suitable for staff to rest if needed – for example, a quiet room
  • whether toilet facilities are easily accessible
  • whether cold drinking water is available
  • whether managers and supervisors have been trained on health and safety issues relating to the menopause

Menopause health effects may be so severe that they fall under the definition of a disability under the Equality Act. If you are put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of your menopause symptoms, your employer could be guilty of sex, age, disability or gender reassignment discrimination.

If your symptoms are affecting your wellbeing and your capacity to work, you should discuss possible workplace adjustments with the occupational health service, if there is one, your line manager or a member of the HR team, or your CSP steward or safety rep.

Work and workplace adjustments

If your symptoms are affecting your wellbeing and your capacity to work, you should find out what possible workplace adjustments are available.

Check whether your employer already has any policies that help staff with menopause symptoms. This might be a specific menopause policy or references to menopause in other policies, such as on attendance management, uniforms, health and wellbeing, special leave/flexible working and disciplinary policies.

Your CSP safety rep or steward should be able to help you with this. They may also be able to negotiate such policies with management, or help you with an individual request for adjustments to your work or work environment.

Some possible adjustments that your employer should consider include:

  • allowing for additional work breaks to use the toilet or to cool down
  • menopause-related absence to be excluded from sickness absence procedures
  • flexibility over wearing uncomfortable uniforms or face masks
  • moving you to a work area with better ventilation, temperature control or natural light
  • providing fans or adjusting air conditioning
  • allowing flexibility over start times if you are suffering sleep problems, or temporary adjustments to shifts
  • providing you with access to counselling services

Self-help tips for menopause

Other ideas to help you deal with your menopause symptoms include:

  • using technology for reminders or note taking
  • talking with colleagues, particularly those who are also experiencing symptoms
  • avoiding hot flush triggers (such as hot food and drinks), especially before client/patient appointments or meetings
  • undertaking relaxation techniques such as mindfulness
  • making lifestyle changes such as reducing weight, stopping smoking and exercise

For more ideas, see guidance on menopause and the workplace from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.

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