Menopause at work: Speak Up, Put Up or Shut Up?

Anna Mooney.

Flexible hours, temperature controlled workspaces, and an environment where menopause is not taboo? If the UK Health Tsar Dame Sally Davies has her way, workplaces across the water will soon be more menopause-friendly.

"Menopause can feel like a great taboo"

Menopausal symptoms include problems with memory and concentration as well as difficulty sleeping, which results in sufferers feeling tired and irritable during the working day. Evidence shows about one in four women will have symptoms that adversely affect their personal and working lives.

“The menopause is a natural part of life, but it can feel like a great taboo." says Dame Sally Davies, Britain's first female Chief Medical Officer.  "It is inexcusable that women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms should feel unable to discuss how they are feeling at work.

“I want to encourage managers to ensure working women feel as comfortable discussing menopausal symptoms as they would any other issues affecting them in the workplace. This will help to ensure that the talent and potential of all women can be realised to the full.”

The Chief Medical Officer would like to see women who have menopause symptoms feel more comfortable at work and reduce sick leave.

Her comments last weekend sparked something of a media furore.  Not everyone agrees with the notion of special treatment for menopausal women - BBC Woman’s Hour doyenne Dame Jenni Murray decried the idea, saying that it was wrong ‘to single out women over 45 as a victim group in need of special attention’, advising that instead of talking to their boss, working women should just “get on with it” -  the no-nonsense approach she has documented in her own 2003 menopause memoir  “Is It Me or Is It Hot In Here?

Menopause is having a "moment"

Whichever camp you fall into, there’s no getting away from the fact that menopause is having a "moment". Just weeks ago, Angelina Jolie embraced her surgically induced early menopause at 40 in a very public and candid statement: “I actually love being in menopause” she said, while Gray’s Anatomy actress Kate Walsh revealed last month through US entertainment media that she had gone through an earlier menopause at 47, drawing a line under any aspirations to have children.

And recently, Mariella Frostrup, surely the poster girl for modern menopause, called for menopause to “step out of the shadows; to be anticipated, understood and planned for.”

Such attractive, vocal ambassadors for menopause have swept away laughable images of sweaty betties in elasticated trousers, tweezing hairs from their chins. (Not that sweating, stretch and stray hairs are foreign concepts, but that’s another post altogether).

Vanessa Feltz and Kathy Lette : matching menopause with humour

Other high profile women are using humour to defy menopausal stereotypes, sharing their experiences of menopause upfront and out loud. Vanessa Feltz, in her opinion column for the Daily Express, has described her hot flush phases vividly:


I write as a 53 year old broadcaster to whom a young male producer said in tones of puzzled incredulity: “During the two hours you were live on air, I counted you took your cardigan off and put it back on again no fewer than 36 times.”


“There’s nothing fun about having a hot flush while in the throes of presenting a radio show. Fellow menopausers will know it means feeling engulfed in a ghastly enveloping blanket of humid, moist tropical heat from your toenails to the roots of your hair and involves rivulets of sweat trickling down your cheeks, sticky wet hair clinging to your head, while doing your utmost to resist an overpowering urge to rip off all your clothes and dive naked out of the window.”


Read the full story here:


Best selling author and humorist Kathy Lette, whose latest novel Courting Trouble addresses menopause, puts it like this: “When you go through the menopause, you feel like a hormonal teenager again, except with wrinkles instead of pimples. Insomnia, the mood swings, hot sweats – basically, you start sweating so much you suspect you’re being interrogated by the Gestapo. Women have to suffer the whole ordeal in silence. Talking about it can only make it better.” 


Read more opinion: 

Menopause facts

·        The menopause literally means the last menstrual period that occurs.

·         The average age of menopause is 51.

·        Symptoms usually last between four and eight years although they may persist for longer.

·        The majority of women do not report bothersome menopausal symptoms, around 20-25% of women report bothersome symptoms associated with the menopause.

·        Vasomotor symptoms are the main physical symptoms of the menopause; they are typically described as sudden feelings of heat in the chest, neck and face, usually accompanied by skin redness and profuse perspiration and/or palpitations, and sometimes followed by shivering while body temperature returns to normal. They vary in frequency and may last between a few seconds to an hour. They may also be instrumental in how women experience other symptoms, such as sleep disturbance and fatigue.

·        Smoking has been associated with an earlier menopause, as well as more frequent hot flushes, and caffeine consumption has been associated with more frequent flushes.

·        Physically active women tend to report higher quality of life and fewer hot flushes compared with inactive women.

·        Women in western countries tend to report more hot flushes compared with those living in India, Japan and China.


You may also be interested in

Confused about menopause? You are not alone.
Davina McCall on menopausal symptoms - February issue of Good Housekeeping


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