26th November 2021

Menopause – the last taboo?

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Let me start out by saying that if you aren’t a middle-aged woman, then this blog is for you.  The middle-aged women of this world already know what I’m about to say, so this article is aimed at those who think this topic has nothing whatsoever to do with them.  Because trust me, at some point in your life, whatever your gender, the menopause will affect you.

This week (22-26 November 2021) is National Older Workers Week, and as one who falls into that category, I thought I should celebrate getting this far!  But in all honesty, I struggle with that concept, because I don’t feel like an older worker.  Even now, with retirement in sight, I still have the same enthusiasm, or perhaps more, than I did when I was in my twenties and thirties.  So is it right that some employers may consider me to be “past it”?

I’m incredibly lucky to work for an employer who values the skills and experience that I have gained over the years, but I know that is not the case for everyone.  And with the State Pension age continuing to rise, people are working longer, and the workplace is becoming more multigenerational.  This can only be a good thing in terms of knowledge and skills sharing, but it also means employers need to work harder to ensure all age groups feel included and valued, and colleagues need to work harder to understand the different pressures affecting each generation.

Some of those pressures will be obvious; the pressure to get on the housing ladder, or to start progressing in your career, or balancing parental responsibilities with work commitments (an issue that came to everyone’s consciousness during lockdown, when parents tried valiantly to juggle home-schooling with working from home) but there is another pressure which can have a huge impact not just on the lives of women my age, but also of those who live and work with them, and that is the menopause, an issue that I suspect barely crosses the mind of anyone not experiencing it first hand.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, and with payroll generally employing more women than men, it is an industry which is likely to be disproportionately affected by the menopause.

For every ten women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six say it has a negative impact on their work, and many women will continue to suffer in silence unless we break the taboo and start talking openly about the menopause at work.  Helping to educate colleagues and loved ones on the, sometimes extreme, symptoms suffered by menopausal women can only help everybody. But it is a topic usually only discussed in embarrassed whispers, if at all.

Hot flushes, memory loss, joint aches, exhaustion and anxiety are just some of the menopause symptoms costing the UK economy 14 million working days every year. According to a report published in 2019, over 370,000 working women in the UK aged between 50 and 64 admitted they left, or considered leaving, their career because dealing with the symptoms in the workplace was too difficult.  

What makes it more difficult is that every woman’s experience of the menopause is different, with over 30 recognised symptoms, and on average women experience 8 of those, meaning that there’s no “one size fits all”.  Research undertaken by the Centre for Better Ageing reveals that 20% of women experiencing the menopause said it had a negative impact on their manager’s perception of their competence at work, with many feeling they weren’t supported by colleagues, including managers, making it difficult for them to get the support they needed.

This is why it is so important to have open conversations about the menopause. As we now know that women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, then the time for removing the taboo and having those open conversations in the workplace can no longer be put off.

Now is the time to reset the workplace attitude towards the menopause.

If you would like more information about how to start the conversation in your workplace you may find the following links useful:

National Older Workers Week 2021 | workingwise.co.uk

Menopause Stories Page – Wellbeing Of Women

Let’s talk menopause | CIPD Guidance

Menopause affects half of all workers – so why don’t we talk about it? | Centre for Ageing Better (ageing-better.org.uk)

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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