A recent survey of veterinary team members across the UK, conducted by Veterinary Woman in conjunction with SPVS, revealed that 83 percent of female respondents said menopause had impacted their health. Seventy-two percent said menopause has impacted their career in some way, including reducing hours and leaving practice partnerships (Veterinary Woman and SPVS, 2021). It also found that 90 percent of respondents would like to know more about menopause from a personal and work perspective.
|1. Hot flushes|
2. Night sweats
3. Vaginal dryness
4. Decreased sex drive
5. Breast soreness
6. Irregular periods
9. Mood swings
14. Panic disorder
15. Joint pain
16. Altered sense of taste
18. Tingling extremities
19. Electric sensations
20. Burning mouth
21. Digestion changes
22. Muscle aches
23. Disrupted sleep
24. Thinning hair
26. Irregular heartbeat
27. Weight gain
28. Memory lapses
29. Concentration lapses
30. Brittle nails
34. Body odour
What is menopause?
Menopause is the natural cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle and a marker of the end of fertility. It is divided into the stages:
- Perimenopause: symptoms leading up to menopause (which can last for up to 10 years)
- Menopause: the time at which an individual has not had a period for 12 months
- Post-menopause: symptoms might end, continue or commence
Menopause is individualised, and diverse symptoms of variable severity make it difficult to diagnose. In the Veterinary Woman survey, the main menopause symptoms reported by women working in veterinary practice were:
- Increased anxiety, mood swings and loss of confidence
- Joint aches, which made surgery and heavy lifting more challenging
- Sleeplessness, dizziness and poor concentration, which affected all aspects of life and work
Menopause at work
The average age at which women experience menopause is 51 years, and symptoms are experienced for an average of seven years. But what does this mean for us in practical terms? It means that we will live with symptoms for about 15 percent of our working life, and potentially be post-menopausal for around half our working life.
A quarter of working women over 50 find their menopause symptoms so debilitating that they consider giving up their careers. Half of women aged between 50 and 64 in the UK – more than 2 million in total – work extra hours to make up for time lost due to these symptoms. Hot flushes, memory loss, joint aches and anxiety are some of the side effects costing the UK economy an estimated 14 million working days every year (HR Review, 2019).
A quarter of working women over 50 find their menopause symptoms so debilitating that they consider giving up their careers
Research from the University of Edinburgh Business School found that menopause symptoms can be more challenging when there is a lack of flexible work opportunities, where there is limited control over time and place of work, and when in physical or high-stress roles – familiar conditions to most veterinary teams (Steffan and Potočnik, 2021). The study also suggests that menopause symptoms negatively affect a person’s perception of their performance and make them more likely to quit their jobs, despite their actual performance not necessarily decreasing.
Support from female colleagues and team leaders tends towards protecting their colleague’s performance when they are suffering from psychological symptoms. When suffering from physical symptoms, helpful actions involved prioritising goals, optimising resources and finding alternative ways to cope with tasks, for example asking others for help with heavy lifting. Flexible working arrangements, such as taking several short breaks during the day or the opportunity to do some work from home, can also be helpful in managing physical and psychological symptoms.
Busting the myths
Currently, there is a lot of interest in normalising and destigmatising menopause, with celebrities endorsing menopause awareness and campaigning to open the conversation at work.
Although reducing the “taboo” nature of menopause at work and drawing on social support networks can be helpful, we should also be mindful that not all women want to speak about menopause at work. Reasons for this can include gendered ageism, where women fear they may be discriminated against for being older and a woman (Grandey et al., 2020), a desire for privacy and separation between their work and private lives.
Although reducing the ‘taboo’ nature of menopause at work and drawing on social support networks can be helpful, we should also be mindful that not all women want to speak about menopause at work
While many people welcome greater openness about the subject, research has also revealed some paradoxical views around the increased awareness of menopause, and whether this could have detrimental effects on women in the workplace. For example, Eliza, a 55-year-old HR director, said: “Now we’re talking about menopause and being able to accommodate women in the workplace going through menopause. And I have a real big concern that we are making women unemployable… I love the fact that we’re being more supportive… [but] I have a concern that this is going to backfire.”
What can you do to support menopause in the workplace?
There are simple, practical and cultural changes that practices can adopt to support menopausal women. It is possible!
Nottinghamshire Police won a “Live Better With” Spotlight Award for Best Workplace after introducing a menopause policy that included easier access to showers, lighter uniforms and flexible working hours for those coping with hot flushes and fatigue. Easy access to toilets and cold water along with offices with good ventilation is also vital, as is making sure your firm’s sickness policy covers menopause.
These practical adaptations closely matched suggestions from the Veterinary Woman menopause survey respondents.
Many responses in the 2021 survey highlighted a lack of support due to poor understanding from younger colleagues, stigmatising and being the subject of ridicule (Veterinary Woman and SPVS, 2021).
It is important that empathy and understanding is fostered, discriminatory language is called out, and support and empathy are displayed
We know from the BVA Motivation, Satisfaction and Retention survey that day-to-day experiences and a sense of belonging are key to motivation in the workplace. So, it is important that empathy and understanding is fostered, discriminatory language is called out, and support and empathy are displayed. Equality, diversity and inclusion training about gendered health issues could be used to support this change.
Educating managers on the impact of menopause symptoms at work and how to support their staff can result in more awareness, more understanding and less judgementalism at senior levels. This, in turn, can set the tone and influence the culture of a practice.
An individualised approach to support should also be encouraged to reflect the varying experiences and needs of staff members.
Empowering women through knowledge
Many survey respondents said they were “not sure” if perimenopause was the cause of certain symptoms (Veterinary Woman and SPVS, 2021). There is a range of perimenopause symptoms, many of which are non-specific, so it is not surprising there is confusion. But if menopause is not talked about openly, this closes the door to empathy and means potential solutions are not being discussed. If we do not know the symptoms – or think we must put up with and shut up about “getting old” – we cannot access treatment solutions. Understanding these things for ourselves also helps others to understand, especially when the effects put our relationships under strain.
|Dr Karen Morton, a consultant obstetrician, gynaecologist and women’s health expert, talked to Liz Barton in a webinar, highlighting the profound impact of the menopause on many women. It details how to mitigate the impacts as an individual and in the workplace, and gives vital practical tips on what medical support may be available and how to talk about menopause with others.|
Wouldn’t it be great if we harnessed more of the power, experience and time of older women to drive the veterinary industry forwards?
There is light at the end of the tunnel! If we can be supportive through the menopausal years, there will be a hugely experienced talent pool that we are retaining in the profession. And many women describe emerging post-menopause with more time, fewer commitments and a sense of liberation.
Supporting women through the difficult period of menopause is absolutely in our best collective interest, to retain talent through the difficult years and out into a bright veterinary career path later in life. Wouldn’t it be great if we harnessed more of the power, experience and time of older women to drive the veterinary industry forwards?