A 2010 report on ‘Women’s Experience of Working through the Menopause’ for The British Occupational Health Research Foundation* concluded that:
“With any longstanding health-related condition, informed, sympathetic and appropriate support from line management is crucial in order to provide employees with the support they need. It is widely thought that such support encourages employee loyalty and facilitates continued participation in the labour force.”
The Report also stated that, “Raising awareness among managers about the menopause, would enable them to deal with women more sensitively and sympathetically, and also encourage women in need to ask for help.”
So what do managers need to know about menopause?
1. Some Basic Facts And Definitions
There are a number of terms used to refer to the period in women’s lives when their reproductive hormones start to decrease, and their menstrual periods cease. This is often called the menopause or ‘the change’ but the correct terms are:
• Pre-menopause – the early years of the transition period when menstrual periods may become irregular and sometimes heavier. Generally, this stage starts after the age of 40.
• Perimenopause – this is the stage either side of the last menstrual period when physical changes and symptoms occur. This stage can start in the early 40s and carry on into the 60s
• Menopause – the last menstrual period. The average age of menopause in the UK is 52.
• Post-menopause – this relates to the years after the last period up to the end of life. It overlaps with the perimenopause.
• Premature menopause or premature ovarian failure – menopause that occurs before the age of 40. There may be an identified medical reason or no known reason
Men can experience some menopausal type symptoms as their hormone levels change in later life, for example body shape changes, weight gain, hot flashes and mood swings. This period is known as ‘andropause’.
Menopause is a natural stage in women’s lives and many women pass through it with minimal symptoms. Every woman’s experience of menopause is different and will be influenced by genetics, diet and lifestyle. The most common symptoms experienced are:
Joint and muscular aches
Frequent visits to the toilet
The impact of these symptoms on working women can include poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory and lowered confidence. Of the women surveyed for the BOHRF Report, 42% agreed or strongly agreed that their perceived job performance had been negatively affected by their menopause symptoms.
3. Treatment, Therapy And Lifestyle Changes
Most women do not seek medical advice in relation to menopause. Women who experience frequent and/or intense symptoms are more likely to consult their medical practitioner. The most common symptoms that women going through perimenopause present to their doctors are hot flashes, night sweats and poor sleep.
4. Medical Treatments
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). HRT has been available since the 1970s. It is available in a variety of forms and doses. There have been a large number of medical studies into the benefits and risks of taking HRT. The risks include a slightly increased chance of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, blood clots, deep vein thrombosis and stroke. It can also give rise to side effects. For these reasons it is not suitable for all women.
Anti-depressants. Women experiencing long-term low mood or depression may be prescribed anti-depressants.
Sleeping tablets. In most cases, doctors will not prescribe sleep medication unless the patient has experienced at least 3 nights disturbed sleep per week for four weeks.
5. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
Of the women surveyed for the BOHRF Report, 16% said that they did not need any treatment, 22% had taken HRT and 39% had tried CAM. Of those who tried CAM over 70% thought it was helpful or slightly helpful. CAM approaches include aromatherapy, herbal treatments, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, reflexology and Reiki.
6. Lifestyle Changes
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the experience of menopause symptoms. These include eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise, not smoking and reducing alcohol intake.