Kathy Abernethy: The correlation between menopause and stress in the workplace

April marks the start of Spring, but did you know that April is also stress awareness month? For employers, this is an important annual reminder of the modern-day stress epidemic, its causes and cures. Now is the time to check in on your own wellbeing, as well as your employees, by facilitating open conversations about employee stress and burnout.

Of course, many things can cause an employee to suffer stress, but there are also correlations between certain women’s health conditions and increased levels of stress that employers should be aware of when trying to support all colleagues. Menopause is one such example.

Menopause, a natural biological process experienced by women, typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. It marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and reproductive years. While menopause is a normal part of ageing, it is also accompanied by various physical and emotional symptoms, which can significantly impact a woman’s work experience. As HR professionals, it is essential to understand the correlation between menopause and stress in the workplace and create supportive environments for women undergoing this transition.

Remember, all female colleagues, including some trans men and non-binary colleagues, will experience menopause. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and from mild to severe. In many cases, symptoms can make it impossible for individuals to feel comfortable and be productive at work. From hot flushes and joint pains to psychological symptoms, such as ‘brain fog’ and feelings of anxiety, menopause symptoms can be really unsettling, making it challenging for women to focus on work tasks and further contributing to stress. In fact, research shows that 63% of women find that menopause symptoms negatively impact their work. More worryingly, one in four consider leaving employment due to symptoms, and one in 10 actually do. As an employer, this has huge ramifications on staff retention, not least of all, when it comes to retaining senior female talent, which we know is a big priority for many organisations.

While education and awareness of menopause has grown over the past few years, there is still some stigma and misunderstanding about how menopause could be impacting women at work specifically. This can make it even harder for women to discuss their experiences and seek support, exacerbating stress and feelings of isolation.

It is important that employers work to create an environment and culture within their organisation that supports women experiencing menopause. Importantly, this includes line managers and male colleagues who can become allies.

Indeed, the most important thing any manager can do is start the conversation with colleagues and make sure everyone understands what menopause is, how to talk about it and how it affects colleagues experiencing it. Managers need to empower themselves and their colleagues with as much knowledge on the subject as possible, in order to provide the right support to individuals when needed.

Similarly, they should get to know the symptoms and be prepared to offer simple but practical solutions to support. Changing someone’s experience of menopause at work could be as simple as providing desk fans, having cold water dispensers, providing sanitary protection, or offering a more breathable uniform fabric option. Offering flexible work options, such as remote work or adjustable work hours, can help women manage their menopausal symptoms more effectively. This flexibility can help reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing. Be open-minded and try to work together to make colleagues feel valued and comfortable.

It is true that employers have had a lot to respond to over the last few years and shrinking budgets can often mean a trade-off on what support they offer to colleagues or not. Indeed, HR teams eager to offer menopause support now have to present a clear business case, and be able to link this kind of support back to business objectives. But it is clear that menopause and stress in the workplace are deeply interconnected issues that require a proactive approach from HR professionals. Only by understanding and addressing the challenges faced by women undergoing menopause, can HR departments create a more inclusive, empathetic, and supportive work environment for all colleagues. Furthermore, if recruiting and retaining female talent at all levels of an organisation is a priority, it is easy to see why menopause support is a must.

Kathy Abernethy is chief nursing officer and director of menopause services at Peppy