Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of female workers experiencing menopause related symptoms say they feel unsupported in the workplace. One in five (19 per cent) say their symptoms have a damaging effect on their work, while one ten (10 per cent) have even considered leaving their jobs.
These are the findings from research carried out by not for profit healthcare provider, Nuffield Health. The charity questioned 3275 women aged 40 – 65. Of those, 2005 (62 per cent) said they were experiencing changes to their hormones which caused them to behave differently, or which had a detrimental effect on aspects of their life.
At work, women reported difficulties in doing their jobs effectively, with a third of women saying their symptoms had a detrimental effect on concentration levels. A similar number (31 per cent) said their ability to cope with stress was adversely affected by symptoms and one in five (20 per cent) said they found it hard to multi-task.
One in six (17 per cent) said symptoms had caused them to take time off work, with one in fifty women aged 40-65 (two per cent) forced to take long term sick leave due to menopause related symptoms.
Speaking about the findings, Menopause Specialist at Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital, Dr Annie Evans, said: “In my practice, I see lots of women who are struggling in the workplace. They may be experiencing a whole host of symptoms like mood swings, stress, confusion or difficulty making decisions and this can make work or management incredibly distressing. Often they feel they have no choice but to stop working.
“Women should not be allowed to feel alone or concerned that they are failing colleagues when experiencing symptoms of hormonal change during the menopausal years. It is time to start being more open and knowledgeable about the serious problems faced by women with such valuable experience but who may be struggling in their work environment at this life stage”.
When asked about how the workplace could be improved in order to help those with menopause related symptoms, almost a third (29 per cent) of women said having an understanding boss or colleague would help, while a similar number said flexible working or the ability to take breaks when they needed would help.
However, the research suggests that despite the sheer numbers of women going through menopause, the subject remains taboo. More than half (55 per cent) of women said it was too private an issue to discuss with anyone; a third (32 per cent) said they felt unable to talk about the issue because people do not regard menopause as a serious medical condition; and more than one in ten (12 per cent) were worried their colleagues would think they were less competent or they would be the butt of jokes.
Dr Julie Ayres, Specialist in Menopause and PMS at Nuffield Health Leeds, said: “The issue needs to be dragged into the 21st Century. Increasingly employers are beginning to take employee health and wellbeing seriously, with numerous initiatives to help improve health and fitness, yet clearly the menopause remains taboo. Until we shine a spotlight on the subject and try to tackle some of the difficulties that women are facing at work, we stand to lose experienced and talented women who should be at the peak of their career rather than facing forced retirement or feeling alienated.
“I have many patients who couldn’t cope with work without hormone replacement therapy and wouldn’t even contemplate stopping until they retire. Any woman struggling in the workplace should seek help and look at all of the options available.”
Outside of the workplace, the research flags up inconsistencies between access to recognised treatment, as well as confusion from medics and patients about what might be menopause symptoms and who is affected.
Over half of the women over 40 surveyed reported having symptoms which could be menopause related, yet nearly a quarter believe they are simply experiencing stress and potentially missing out on treatment. In the younger age groups, those aged 40-50, the figure rose to more than half (56 per cent) who did not think or did not know if their symptoms were menopause related, with 39 per cent believing they were too young. Experts say that women are potentially missing out on treatment as a result of a lack of knowledge from both patients and medics about the menopause.