Education and communication is the key to removing taboos and negative attitude towards menopause, and occupational health practitioners can be well-placed to make a difference, argues OH advisor Rosalyn Jones. She also outlines the results of a recent study into differing perceptions of menopause between men and women.
Have you ever wondered just what we – men and women – really think of menopause? Menopause is a topic that’s being talked about more, which is great. But my interest in the menopause has been around for a while. Menopausal symptoms, women at work over the age of 50, surgical/hormone induced early menopausal and people’s perceptions around the topic of menopause have recently become uppermost in my spare time.
My day-to-day job is an occupational health advisor. Following a chance comment during a presentation around the subject of menopause, I discovered an inquisitive interest around the subject. This was especially relevant to me as I had recently experienced early onset menopausal symptoms from cancer treatment and had returned to the workplace.
Menopause and the workplace
I started to introduce the subject of menopause to workplaces and to anybody who would listen, to try, and remove the stigma and taboo around the signs, symptoms and myths.
Shortly after my interest was piqued, a paper by The University of Leicester was published (in 2017). By 2019, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published a website which I found informative. This includes information for managers and professionals.
During presentations to companies, unions and employees, I have noticed an air of ambivalence. However, once the subject of menopause is introduced, there is usually a great deal of discussion. This always opens up questions from both the men and women in the audience.
I have noted women want to talk about help regarding their symptoms, for example hot flushes, mood swings, lack of sleep and so on. Men, conversely, often like to know the same, as well as how to approach the subject to their partners, family, friends and co-workers. There is a degree of embarrassment at first but as the subject is discussed, it usually becomes light-hearted and a fun session.
To try and break down these barriers, and to get a deeper understanding of menopause in the workplace, I decided to undertake small study on the perception of menopause, from both men and women.
I wanted to answer the following questions:
- If there are any vast differences or, are they the same?
- What do people want or need to help one another both at home and at work?
- To obtain insight from the male perspective, what they know and think about the menopause.
I devised a questionnaire, which I sent out to a number of my contacts. In return, I received 167 completed ones, 42 from men aged 18-68 and 115 from women aged 19-71. Here are the questions I asked:
When did you become aware of the term menopause?
Men: aged one to 40.
Women: from teenage years to mid-30s.
What symptoms do you associate with menopause?
Men: cold sweats, restless sleep, night sweats, irregular periods, hormone imbalance, hair loss, brittle bones, grumpy, women not having periods, severely short tempered, weight gain, dizziness, stress, hot flushes, inability to have children, hair growth, abdominal pain.
Women: hot flushes, sweating, headaches, lack of sleep, irritable, mood swings, lack of concentration, change in bowel habits, sore breasts, menstrual cycle becomes irregular or ceases, night sweats, brain fog, change in sexual appetite, loss of confidence, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis, skin problems, aches and pains, palpitations, thinning hair, flooding, gaining weight, facial hair, loss of skin elasticity.
What would you like to know about the menopause?
- Does it affect men? How do you reduce effect on women?
- What to expect?
- How to help women with moods, sweating and anxiety?
- How to stop it and coping mechanisms.
- Treatments or activities to ease symptoms.
- When to use hormone replacement therapy, how to manage the symptoms.
- Is HRT a good or bad thing?
- Which alternative/herbal remedies work/are available?
- Will HRT cause breast cancer?
- Any natural diets and altering lifestyle to delay onset of menopause or how to combat symptoms when it starts instead of jumping straight to HRT.
- Does a coil work?
- That it is normal and OK to have certain feelings.
- How to distinguish between menopause and other conditions.
- How best to support any close relatives that might experience it in the near future.
- What are normal symptoms of the menopause and what can be done to safely alleviate some of the side effects?
- How long it lasts from start to finish.
- Anything to relieve the symptoms and side effects, especially how it affects relationships
- When is the average time it occurs and how “average” are the symptoms?
- What men think about it in general
- How to prepare for it – psychologically
- What causes menopause to begin at an early age
- What to expect and how to get your GP to run a test to check if you are going through menopause
- Best practice for employers to support employee
When do you believe the menopause begins?
I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness of people to be involved with this study. My conclusions were that education and communication is the key to removing the taboo and negative attitude towards the symptoms.
This is not an ‘old lady’ issue. Menopause can affect women as young as late twenties with early-onset menopause, often through surgery. It is experienced very individually by everybody. This affects both men, women and younger people who are living with a person experiencing symptoms.”
This is not an “old lady” issue. Menopause can affect women as young as late twenties with early-onset menopause, often through surgery. It is experienced very individually by everybody. This affects both men, women and younger people who are living with a person experiencing symptoms.
More education of GPs to help identify symptoms before the menopause and to signpost to support groups, medication, alternative therapies/medicine would help individuals to make an informed choice.
Some women have told me they have had to give up their career when in the throes of the menopause. With hindsight, if they had been signposted to the correct help, they would most likely have been able to continue with their careers.
More education, workplace polices and support would be helpful to both employees and employers.
Awareness and understanding would help bring about positive change at work. I believe more studies are needed to understand if men do have similar symptoms and/ or hormonal issues as women during the same stage in life.
I feel this is the beginning of change both at work and at home.
Rosalyn Jones RGN Dip, OHN Dip is an occupational health advisor
Menopause hub, Henpicked, https://henpicked.net/category/menopause-hub/menopause-and-work/
“What employers should know about menopause in the workplace”, Professor Jo Brewis and Dr Andrea Davies, University of Leicester Business School, and Dr Vanessa Beck, University of Bristol, https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk/menopause-at-work/what-employers-should-know-about-menopause-in-the-workplace/
“Let’s talk about menopause: help us break the stigma so that people of all ages can achieve their true potential at work”, CIPD, 2019, https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/menopause
Menopause in the workplace, Henpicked, https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk/