Guest blog by Deborah Garlick, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace
We’ve seen a continued focus on conversations around menopause in the workplace. In some cases, these have taken a different course after lockdown. Menopause isn’t going to go away simply because of COVID-19. It remains a priority for workplace agendas, perhaps with a shifted focus in place, but nonetheless the conversations must continue.
What does this mean for occupational health professionals? We know that menopausal women are the fastest-growing workplace demographic, and that this is one compelling reason for organisations to put support in place. In 2016, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine produced its own guidance for how to support menopause in the workplace and improve workplace environments. So how does this fit into today’s world?
Menopause in the workplace support is still vital – see research conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA). Findings show worrying levels of female doctors were leaving the profession due to menopausal symptoms going unsupported. Over 90% of the respondents said that menopausal symptoms had affected them at work, but an alarming 38% also said they couldn’t make the changes needed to cope in the workplace. In some cases, women have found certain symptoms easier to manage from home – such as hot flushes, as they can monitor their own heating and ventilation to suit them. But, having run training sessions for hundreds of women during this time, we know that mental health issues are coming to the fore. Worry about COVID-19, furlough, job security and working from home are all raising stress levels. And in turn, additional stress can make menopause symptoms worse.
Added to that, questions about wearing PPE with hot flushes is a hot topic. So many hospitals in particular on the front line of COVID-19 are having to ask what they can do. It’s great that so many organisations are continuing and even ramping up their menopause campaigns. We’ve held several webinars to help organisations understand how to become menopause friendly. In our polls around 80% said they’ve already started the work or it’s already on the horizon. By the end of the session, the exit comments tell us that 100% appreciate how important it is to prioritise this activity.
The Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust is the perfect example of keeping the conversation going. Having run a successful workshop just before lockdown, they’re moving their training online to reach across their large workforce demographic. “We have continued to support individuals with menopause-linked issues who may be more isolated due to working from home, or struggling with wearing PPE for long shifts,” explains Occupational Health Manager Helen Mumby. “Of course, we can’t advise stopping PPE, but we have advised managers about micro-hydration and fresh air breaks, really thinking about when and for how long they need PPE, and looking at uniform material.
“Where possible, we advised staff to wear their own lightweight clothing on hot days, as NHS blouses for admin staff aren’t made of natural fibres. Infection prevention and control was the main priority so we had to consider this with clothing too.
“This is an opportunity to still offer support and practical advice. OH professionals are used to thinking out of the box and coming up with creative solutions. Our challenge has been the overwhelming amount of work that has flooded in, however the move to virtual training has been liberating.”
What do occupational health professionals need to know?
Here are some top tips from Dr Justine Setchell, Occupational Health Practitioner and GP (www.hormonehealth.co.uk):
- Read up on menopause to understand it fully. It’s not just hot flushes. There are a wide range of symptoms, physical and psychological, to take into account. Anxiety, urinary tract infections, low mood, fatigue, problems with memory recall. There are often clinical treatments available, such as HRT, so always recommend a woman speaks to her GP in the first instance.
- Think menopause. Never make assumptions that a woman of menopausal age can only suffer from menopausal symptoms. But always have menopause in your mind and be aware of what the symptoms are. This is particularly important with the added need for many professionals to wear PPE, which can exacerbate hot flushes.
- Support is available in spite of COVID-19. Many women think they need to wait until post-Covid to seek support, thinking that their GP is likely to be too busy. But most GPs are offering online or telephone appointments, and we urge women to continue to speak to their doctor. Menopause symptoms won’t wait for COVID-19 to end, and neither should you. For the majority of women over the age of 45, menopause can be diagnosed on symptoms alone, with no need for a blood test. Sometimes treatment works right from the start, but other times it needs some adjustment, so it’s a good idea to get started as soon as possible.
For many organisations, the impetus now is to continue conversations around menopause, putting the right support in place. For others, it’s about getting started. Wherever your organisation is at, the benefits will be huge.