Menopause: what leaders need to know.


Recent research conducted by CIPD found that close to 1M women left the workforce citing menopause symptoms as the reason why.[1]

How can this be the case if, as is commonly thought, menopause is mostly about having a hot flush and periods stopping?

There are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding menopause and its impact on those experiencing it.  What follows is a very brief overview of menopause and some thoughts on what organisations need to pay attention to if we are to turn the tide on the number of experienced, brilliant mid-life women leaving the workforce.

What is menopause?

Menopause is a natural life transition. To a greater or lesser extent, everyone with ovaries will experience it. The average age for this transition in the UK is 45-55. The average age for menopause is 51 in the UK.

Perimenopause describes the years leading up to menopause – up to 10 years.

This happens because hormonal change occurs and then oestrogen declines as ovaries no longer function in the way they once did. Women have oestrogen receptors in every cell in the body, so the impact of that decline can be huge.

Important to note is that 1 in 100 women under the age of 40 will experience premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), meaning they enter perimenopause and menopause early. Women who have a full hysterectomy will immediately experience menopause (often described as ‘crashing’ into menopause) which can be difficult and distressing.

There are over 35 symptoms associated with menopause including the infamous hot flushes, mood swings, rage, joint pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression, tinnitus, brain fog, memory loss and a decline in confidence. The severity and impact of the symptoms is a unique experience for each person.

Why is this a workplace issue?

Whilst awareness is increasing, it remains true to say that menopause is largely taboo within the workplace. Alongside this, women are often unclear what the symptoms are and what support is available to manage them. The main treatment, HRT (hormone replacement therapy) has had bad, inaccurate press and many are fearful or confused by it.  Add into the mix the fact that GP’s get little or no training in menopause as a recent freedom of information request found:

Despite the fact that there are approximately 13 million perimenopausal or post menopausal women in the UK, almost half – a staggering 41% of the 32 medical schools who responded did not have a mandatory menopause education program for their students. This means some doctors may leave university with no education in menopause at all.” [2]

It’s the perfect storm.

And women, as they reach the height of their career perhaps, who have previously loved their work, find themselves undermined by symptoms. Confused as to what is happening and unable to get the support they need; they conclude the only solution is to leave.

I met Nikky through my Facebook group; she wants her story told so that other people don’t go through the same:

Nikky is a teacher, she loved her job. She noticed she was experiencing heightened anxiety and destabilising feelings about her ability to do her job well. Over a period of a few months her mental health worsened, and she ended up having a breakdown. This came out of the blue. She quit her job, the job she loved, as she felt she couldn’t do it anymore.  As she was home wondering what had just happened, she began to realise her symptoms looked a lot like those of perimenopause. She began researching, was introduced to my Facebook group, “What The Fog?”, talked to others and went to her GP with her suspicions. She had indeed entered perimenopause – at 39. Nikki was totally unaware of perimenopause prior to this happening.

A year later and her health is improving thanks to treatment and lifestyle changes, but her career has been severely affected. Reflecting on the situation Nikky wishes the school management team had been more aware of perimenopause, so that together they might have joined the dots and been able to work out a way to support and keep her in the job she loved. Instead, she resigned her job, has lost her career and the school has had to replace a talented, experienced teacher.

The impact is real. Nikky’s story is just one of those one million women that left the workforce due to symptoms. These stories are probably being repeated in your organisation too. Awareness of the issue in the workplace and subsequent mitigation, are crucial steps forward.

The legal context

 Employers have a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the workplace risks to the health and safety of their employees under health and safety law.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty not to discriminate and employees should be treated with respect in terms of their age and gender. As the menopause is a strictly female condition, any detrimental treatment of a woman related to the menopause could represent direct or indirect sex discrimination. [3]

What can Leaders do to address this?


Start by talking about it. Recognise this is a significant issue and deserves your attention. Apart from anything else,     recruiting new talent is an expensive business.


Raise awareness. Educate everyone in your organisation. Create a shared understanding of menopause, its impact and the organisation’s approach to it.


Absence management & menopause policies and guidelines. Menopause symptoms should be treated as a long-term health condition. Absence management policies should be structured so they don’t unfairly penalise someone experiencing on-going symptoms.


Support managers to have sensitive conversations so people feel more comfortable talking about it and managers feel more confident addressing it.


Appointing in-house CPD accredited Menopause Ambassadors so that there’s a point person, an advocate for people.


Tailored support for those experiencing a challenging menopause. One to one coaching, a buddy, menopause support groups, signposting to good, evidenced based information to support symptom management.


What next?

This is a complex issue to address and needs careful handling. It is, nevertheless, one that cannot be ignored if we are to prevent more stories like Nikky’s.

Working alongside you, I can help you address this issue and address it well.

It’s a win-win for those experiencing it and for your organisation.





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