Employers increasingly need to understand the impact of menopause on their staff. We take a look at the issues.
Time was when the menopause got very little mention in the media, apart from the occasional article about HRT. In recent years there has been a growing interest, including a spate of reports recently about early menopause.
One woman who has played a part in raising awareness about the symptoms of menopause and how they can be treated is Norma Goldman.
She is the founder of the Menopause Exchange which provides impartial and practical information about the menopause, including a free quarterly newsletter full of expert advice and news. There are thousands of subscribers to the newsletter, including women, healthcare professionals, journalists and complementary therapists.
The Exchange came into being more by accident than design. Norma is a pharmacist. In the early 1990s, she was invited to attend a health promotion course and became interested in the whole issue of promoting good health. She did a masters degree in health promotion and attended a course on women’s health. She decided to focus on the menopause for her thesis. Later she met an old acquaintance who asked her to give a talk about the menopause.
It became the first of many in settings ranging from hospitals to companies to women’s groups and these led to Norma setting up the Menopause Exchange in 1999 to deal with all aspects of the menopause. That includes menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis and coping with the menopause using self help, HRT, prescribed alternatives, nutrition and complementary treatments.
The Exchange has a panel of experts, including GPs, menopause specialists and others.
The aim is “to raise awareness about the menopause so women can make informed choices in cooperation with health professionals” and to inform healthcare professionals. Although other sites now exist to give advice to women, the Menopause Exchange remains fairly unique because of its commitment to circulating news about latest research and ideas.
Some of her talks are given to managers. Norma makes a strong business case to them to accommodate women suffering from the menopause. Some of the main symptoms can have an impact on the workplace, she says. They include hot flushes, night sweats resulting in insomnia and difficulty making decisions, aches and pains, frequent need to urinate and irritability, anxiety and depression. Norma says being aware of these means managers and women can work together to reduce them, for instance, moving the position of women vis a vis radiators or toilets. Ways of dealing with the symptoms will vary according to the women, her manager and/or colleagues and the sector she works in, she adds.
Despite the fact that Norma has given talks to managers and health safety officers, she says the vast majority of her talks are to women and that there is only beginning to be interest among managers in how the menopause might affect work and how they can help, for instance, by looking at office temperature controls and ventilation.
Questions raised at her sessions for women tend to revolve around HRT or alternative treatments. Participants are also keen to hear about other women’s experiences. Those taking part include women who are pre-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal.
Norma says women are not as embarrassed as they were in the past to talk about the menopause. “There is less stigma that there was,” she says, “and more coverage in the media, but the menopause is not always understood by colleagues and managers.”
She argues that there is a good business case for raising awareness in the workplace, including reduced absenteeism, greater productivity, improved wellbeing and a better workplace environment.
She adds: “Although the menopause is not a taboo subject any more, women need to be encouraged to talk to their managers and there needs to be a greater awareness among managers.”