Recognising and adapting to menopausal symptoms in the workplace

Carolyn Giles is Head of People & Operations at Plymouth Citybus and a long-standing member of SW Women in Business CIC. Here, she gives an update on their activity and how you can get involved.

I was delighted to be asked to introduce the first joint event between SW Women in Business (SWWIB) and Devon & Plymouth Chamber of Commerce which focused on the menopause.

This event came into being following a highly successful SWWIB event in late 2021 that attracted 115 participants. The conversation has finally been started in the workplace, and maybe thanks to the focus from the BBC and Louise Minchin, as well as a highly popular documentary with Davina McCall.

We were there to consider a number of factors. The primary issue was to identify how we recognise and adapt to menopausal symptoms in the workplace and where workplaces are getting it right.

At the event it was clear that the University of Plymouth’s menopause support network is extremely successful and attracts not just women who may be within menopause or perimenopause, but also line managers and colleagues who want to help.

This has helped us to move our thinking towards holding a support network as a Chamber and Women’s networking group. This is important as many members are in small and micro businesses and may not find it easy to get support within their workplace or networks.

There are some key facts that make for interesting reading; the ONS states that menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. This is a really important point, and if we look back over previous generations of work, many women did not work during their menopausal years, and that may be one of the reasons the topic remains such a taboo within workplaces.

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine tells us that eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work. Of those women, three out of four experience symptoms of the menopause and for one in four those symptoms are serious.

It is easy to assume that menopause only impacts on women between 50 and 54 (the average age is 51.4 years). However menopause can be brought on due to medical reasons, surgical reasons, or pharmaceutical reasons. Some men may also experience the symptoms due to medication or being transgender. Perimenopause can take many years and has its own set of symptoms.

Equally we heard from women at the event who had experienced the menopause in their thirties. This created not only the obvious issues around fertility, but led to poor diagnosis due to age, and we discovered through discussion that many of the symptoms can be confused with hyper-thyroidism and other medical conditions.

Unfortunately not all GPs seem to be well briefed in the symptoms of the menopause and many of the cognitive elements of the symptoms have gone un-treated or unrecognised for many women.

The discussion in the room was of a very high calibre and reflected a number of options around diagnosis and treatment, both traditional and alternative. Diet and exercise were discussed along with support from peers and employers.

We discussed the options employers have to engage in supporting their workforce. This includes good-quality training for managers, strong policies, support groups and most importantly, opening the discussion.

This feels like the start of the conversation at a business network level, and I look forward to engaging more of our colleagues in the conversation so we can support our workforces and enable them to work effectively.

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