Menopause and work
Tuesday, 06 December 2016
Menopause is a normal life event for women and so it is not an illness or a medical condition. This often means that the symptoms of the menopause are too often under-recognised, under-valued and not taken seriously. The psychological symptoms associated with the menopause such as loss of self-confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety and depressive symptoms are the ones that often affect women the most.
Around 3.5 million women aged between 15 and 65 years are currently in employment in the UK. The employment rate for women in the UK has actually increased in the past few decades which means that many more women are affected by symptoms of their menopause when they are working. Clearly, the symptoms vary between woman with around 25% of women suffering severe symptoms.
It is no surprise that around half of women have been reported as finding work difficult due to their symptoms of menopause. Poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, depression, feeling low, lowered confidence, sleepiness and particularly hot flushes are often contributing factors. In addition, and perhaps more worryingly, it has been estimated that around 10% of women actually stop work altogether because of their severe menopausal symptoms.
In November 2016, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine introduced new guidelines for women entitled ‘Guidance on menopause and the workplace’. These practical guidelines aim to help women experiencing troublesome menopausal symptoms, and to support them and their colleagues and managers in tackling the occupational aspects of menopausal symptoms.
These recommendations include advocating introducing training in the workplace to increase awareness of the potential effects of menopause in the workplace, adapting the workplace environment where appropriate (for example changing temperature of rooms and having fans available), making flexible hours for some women an option and, perhaps most importantly, creating opportunities to facilitate discussion about symptoms that are impacting on the ability to work.
The guidance also recommend that women seek advice regarding available treatment from their GPs. Many women are still suffering in silence and do not realise how effective hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be at dramatically improving both their symptoms and also their quality of life with an effect of being able to help them function better at work.
I strongly feel that as GPs we should give our patients the time they need and the information they require to make informed choices regarding their menopause and its management. Many women still feel helpless and despondent when they discuss their menopausal symptoms with their GPs and this has to change. There are now excellent guidelines available which should be empowering us in primary care with more knowledge and confidence to diagnose and manage the menopause. They provide clear statements regarding benefits and risks of HRT.
Despite these guidelines, it is important that a woman’s menopausal status is not an automatic indicator of their likely perceptions of work and also their performance in the workplace. There is clearly a real need for much more work to be undertaken in this important area.