Professor Dame Sally Davies, the first female Chief Medical Officer, has called on bosses to create a culture where women feel comfortable discussing the menopause in the workplace.

Menopausal symptoms include problems with memory and concentration as well as difficulty sleeping, which results in sufferers feeling tired and irritable during the day. Evidence shows about one in four women will have symptoms that adversely affect their personal and working lives.

The Chief Medical Officer would like to see women who have menopause symptoms feel more comfortable at work and reduce sick leave. She has recommended that the Faculty of Occupational Medicine produce guidelines for employers to help them provide appropriate support to women who need it during their menopause.

An estimated ten per cent of women have taken days off work because of menopausal symptoms, but only one in four had discussed their symptoms with their line manager.

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There were 3.5 million women aged 50-65 in employment in 2013. With an ageing national workforce, better understanding by employers could support women with symptoms by helping them to feel more engaged and productive and ultimately encouraging them to stay in work.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said:

“The menopause is a natural part of life, but it can feel like a great taboo. It is inexcusable that women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms should feel unable to discuss how they are feeling at work.

“I want to encourage managers to ensure working women feel as comfortable discussing menopausal symptoms as they would any other issues affecting them in the workplace. This will help to ensure that the talent and potential of all women can be realised to the full.”

In the workplace, research[2] shows that women would like to see:

  • greater awareness among managers of the menopause as a possible occupational health issue (74% of women considered this helpful);
  • flexibility of working hours and working arrangements to help manage symptoms (64%);
  • better access to informal and formal sources of support (57%); and
  • improvements in workplace temperature and ventilation (55%).

But managers cannot provide support or offer suitable adjustments if they are not made aware of problems. It is important for employers to foster a culture where women feel comfortable to discuss menopause symptoms that may impact on working life.

Menopause facts

  • The menopause literally means the last menstrual period that occurs.
  • The average age of menopause is 51.
  • Symptoms usually last between four and eight years although they may persist for longer.
  • The majority of women do not report bothersome menopausal symptoms, around 20-25% of women report bothersome symptoms associated with the menopause.
  • Vasomotor symptoms are the main physical symptoms of the menopause; they are typically described as sudden feelings of heat in the chest, neck and face, usually accompanied by skin redness and profuse perspiration and/or palpitations, and sometimes followed by shivering while body temperature returns to normal. They vary in frequency and may last between a few seconds to an hour. They may also be instrumental in how women experience other symptoms, such as sleep disturbance and fatigue.
  • Smoking has been associated with an earlier menopause, as well as more frequent hot flushes, and caffeine consumption has been associated with more frequent flushes.
  • Physically active women tend to report higher quality of life and fewer hot flushes compared with inactive women.
  • Women in western countries tend to report more hot flushes compared with those living in India, Japan and China.
[1] Griffiths, A., MacLennan, S.J. & Hassard, J. ( 2013). Menopause and work: An electronic survey of employee attitudes in the UK. Maturitas. 76(2), 155-159.

[2] Griffiths A (2010). Work and the menopause: a guide for managers. London: British Occupational Health Foundation. Accessed 6 June 2015. www.bohrf.org.uk/downloads/Work_and_the_Menopause-A_Guide_for_Managers.pdf