A study of more than 5000 women across five countries has found that up to a third of women who suffer symptoms of menopause hide them at work.
The study, which was conducted by the market research and insight agency Opinium, and funded by Vodafone, sought responses from women in the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and South Africa.
The women were asked questions about their experiences of menopause at work, and whether they hid symptoms such as hot flushes, fatigue, memory lapses, anxiety, depression and heart palpitations.
The survey found that women who experienced symptoms before they were 45 were most likely to say that they were too embarrassed to ask for support in the workplace. More than half of female respondents from Spain said they felt a stigma around the condition in the workplace and weren’t comfortable talking about it.
37 percent of South African respondents said they were comfortable discussing the subject with colleagues, while in Italy 28 percent said they had hidden symptoms. In the UK, 63 percent of respondents under 44 said they didn’t seek help.
Symptoms can vary widely between individuals, and can range from vaginal dryness to changes in libido, mood swings and memory problems.
Vodafone estimates that around 15 percent of its 100,000 employees experience menopause, which can affect work performance and productivity.
The company said it was making a “global commitment” to support these women by rolling out a training and awareness program to all employees – many of whom have already been invited to a webinar on “hormonal health and life stages.” They also plan to release toolkits which will focus on raising understanding of the menopause and provide guidance on how to support employees, colleagues and family members.
Lesley Salem, a UK based market researcher who founded Over the Bloody Moon, a resource for women in the menopausal transition period, recently said that for businesses to not have any structural support for women “…is a a sign of weakness.”
“Unless we start talking about menopause at work, we are going to keep on seeing women in their forties and fifties disappearing in droves,” Lesley said.
Dr Louise Newson, a menopause specialist based in London, said that up to a third of people are not even aware what is happening to them.“Many never link symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, and mental exhaustion to menopause,” she said.
Deborah Garlick, the CEO of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, is trying to change these conditions for women as more businesses recognise the importance of catering to the needs of this cohort of workers. Her company sends out experts to workplaces and organisations to provide training, videos, e-Learning, and policy strategies to help managers and colleagues implement a more inclusive workplace.
“Inspirational employers are not waiting for menopause policies and support to be made law,” she told Good HouseKeeping Institute. “They’re making change happen now because it’s simply the right thing to do for the wellbeing of their colleagues, diversity and inclusion, and equality.”
In 2019, the UK’s Channel 4 announced it would mandate new strategies to support staff going through menopause, including flexible working arrangements and a private, cool and quiet workspace they could use when needed.
Positive changes are occurring slowly, however the reality is that many women continue to be forced out of the workforce due to the effects of menopause and the lack of support and flexibility provided by their employers.
The chief human resources officer at Vodafone, Leanne Wood, said the aim of the company to integrate new programs to support women going through this stage in their lives is part of their “desire for women to see Vodafone as the place to be for their career through all stages of their life”.
“With menopause impacting women for a significant period of their working life, it’s important to us that our environment supports and normalises these life stages by openly talking about and supporting menopause in the workplace,” she said.
In the UK, less than 5 percent of business provide a policy on menopause.