The menopause – what are the symptoms and how do they impact on work?
The menopause. It’s not just hot flushes and brain fog. The changes in hormone levels that occur during this natural phase of the aging process can lead to a whole host of physical and psychological symptoms that can impact on every aspect of a person’s life, including their work.
Indeed, the British Menopause Society have found that of the 4.4 million employed women in the UK aged 45-60 (the core perimenopause/menopause age), 45% feel that their menopausal symptoms have had a negative impact on them in the workplace.
It’s also the case that many people often don’t realise that it’s the menopause that’s behind their health issues, as the symptoms can be very general, can come and go and vary in intensity, and affect everyone differently. As a result, people are often misdiagnosed and struggle to get the right support.
With it being Menopause Awareness Month, we wanted to help shine a light on the various different symptoms that the menopause can cause, the impact they can have at work, and the things people can do to try and manage them.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Most people who go through the menopause will experience at least one of the following symptoms:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Short but sudden feelings of heat in the face, neck and chest
- Irregular periods
- Sleep deprivation
- Aching joints and muscle tension
- Bloating and digestive problems
- Weight gain
- More frequent urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections
- Dizzy spells
- Reduced libido
- Heart palpitations
- Itchy skin
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Low mood and depression
- Brain fog
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of confidence
How do the symptoms of menopause impact on people at work?
As noted above, everyone’s experience of the menopause is different and while for some these symptoms can be mild, for others they can be so severe that it affects their ability to keep working as usual, with studies finding that a shocking 1 in 4 women have considered leaving their job because of their symptoms.
The psychological symptoms are regularly cited as being most problematic in the workplace, as they can affect performance, accuracy, decision-making and work relationships, however the physical symptoms can also cause significant discomfort and embarrassment. All of this can lead to increased stress levels, reduced self-esteem and loss of confidence.
So, what can you do to better manage menopause symptoms?
Simple lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet, cutting your consumption of caffeine and alcohol, quitting smoking and introducing more regular physical activity can go a long way in helping to relieve or reduce the severity of many of the common menopause symptoms (including hot flushes) and can aid in improving sleep, reducing stress and boosting your overall wellbeing.
They can also help to protect against some of the longer-term health issues associated with changes to hormone levels during and post menopause.
There is some anecdotal evidence (although little scientific evidence) that some complementary therapies may help to relieve some symptoms of menopause.
If you do decide to try any of these types of therapies, it is always advisable to speak with your GP or pharmacist first, to reduce the risks of any potential adverse side-effects, particularly if you’re combining them with other medicines.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
There has previously been a lot of misinformation about the side-effects of HRT, but it is now accepted that the benefits tend to outweigh the risks for most people and that it is one of the most effective treatments for relieving many menopausal symptoms. There have been vast improvements in the HRT options available in recent years and is now being prescribed much more widely, so if you haven’t previously considered it, it is worth speaking with your GP or nurse practitioner about whether it could benefit you.
Speak to your employer
Employers have a duty of care to look after the wellbeing of their employees and should take reasonable steps to support you and help you manage your symptoms at work to reduce any impact on your ability to do your job. Because everyone’s experience of the menopause is different, it’s important to speak to them to let them know what support measures would best help you. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your direct supervisor or line manager, try speaking with another manager or a member of your HR or People Team instead.
And if you’re looking for more information on how your organisation can better support your employees going through the menopause, check out our recent webinar ‘Let’s Talk Menopause: Why employers need to be doing more’ below:
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