In the past couple of years, women’s health and wellbeing in mid to later life has gone from being whispered about in the shadows to being the subject of documentaries, newspaper articles and breakfast TV discussions.
This “celebrity endorsement” of menopause is normalising and destigmatising it through increased awareness. It means we’re talking about menopause more than ever before and it is also helping to reduce the taboo nature of menopause at work.
This is crucial since peri-menopause (leading up to menopause), menopause (the point at which one has not had a period for 12 months) and post-menopause symptoms can really change how women engage with work. Recent reports estimate 10% of women leave paid work and 14 million working days are lost annually due to menopause symptoms.
My research into supporting healthy ageing at work shows that when women have to manage menopause symptoms in the workplace, informal social networks are one of the most crucial ways to do so. This is the most direct way for women to feel supported in the workplace in terms of their broader health and wellbeing, but also during menopause specifically. I’ve found women often feel most supported by other women with a similar experience.
Of course, supporting wellbeing at work has been made all the more complex by post-COVID hybrid working practices. Indeed, my research has shown that the majority of women can manage menopause symptoms better at home, thanks to the “three Ts” of menopause support: time, temperature and toilets. If a menopausal woman has control over these aspects wherever she is working, it is likely to positively impact her overall experience of menopause.
Again, though, this puts the onus of managing health and wellbeing onto the person. The concern here is that structures that create an expectation that women cope better with symptoms through hybrid working run the risk of inadvertently reinforcing the taboo of menopause as something to be managed in the shadows.
Sustainable, individual support
Also, while organisations can and should develop health and wellbeing support initiatives in the workplace, it’s important to remember that the experience of issues like menopause is highly individualised – women can experience many different kinds of symptoms, or sometimes none at all.
Successful and sustainable organisational support will rely on a range of factors including the industry (is it “masculinised”?) and whether the organisational culture is open to issues like health disclosure. Also, team culture must be supportive and line managers should ideally be approachable and knowledgeable.
Workplace support systems for women’s health and wellbeing that reach each person are more likely to be sustainable. Organisations offering positive menopause stories, and senior, visible and credible role models will take an important step forward for women’s workplace health and wellbeing. Progress in this area relies on champions for change – not just on TV but in every workplace.
- ^ documentaries (www.channel4.com)
- ^ newspaper articles (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ breakfast TV discussions (ahc.leeds.ac.uk)
- ^ normalising and destigmatising it (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- ^ reduce the taboo nature (journals.sagepub.com)
- ^ leave paid work (www.fawcettsociety.org.uk)
- ^ 14 million (www.ons.gov.uk)
- ^ supporting healthy ageing at work (www.shaw.business-school.ed.ac.uk)
- ^ manage menopause symptoms (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- ^ informal social networks (journals.sagepub.com)
- ^ Women’s Health Matters (theconversation.com)
- ^ How tracking menopause symptoms can give women more control over their health (theconversation.com)
- ^ The orgasm gap and why women climax less than men (theconversation.com)
- ^ How biological differences between men and women alter immune responses – and affect women’s health (theconversation.com)
- ^ study of more than 1,000 women (www.dovepress.com)
- ^ a legal right (www.gov.uk)
- ^ Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com)