Menopause is a fact of life, but it’s a rare topic of conversation and often misunderstood. Considering that menopause will affect almost 46 per cent of the Australian workforce and its impact can be significant, it’s time to start talking.
For most women, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Some women experience no symptoms, but for others it can cause sleep disturbance, headaches, weakness, fatigue, anxiety, memory loss and hot flushes.
A recent study found that the more severe the menopausal symptoms, the less engaged and satisfied women feel at work and the greater their intention to leave.
This is as might be expected, but it’s important that such expectations are backed by respected and insightful research.
“Myths that the menopausal woman is crazy and bad tempered, or can’t control herself at work, are pervasive stereotypes that are difficult to tackle,” says Gavin Jack, professor of management at La Trobe University and the study’s lead researcher.
These myths contribute to menopause being a subject many managers avoid talking about, says Jack.
“There’s this idea of the ideal worker who tends to be male and disembodied, and anything not of that norm is left around the edges of the organisation and is therefore difficult to talk about or is feared.”
The study, by La Trobe and Monash universities in Australia, and Yale in the United States, entitled Women, Work and the Menopause, examined the relationship between menopause-related symptoms and women’s work engagement, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. It involved surveys of more than 800 women employed by three Australian universities and face-to-face interviews with 48 women employed by two Australian universities.
The study also revealed a lack of formal and informal workplace support for women with symptoms of menopause.
Given that women over the age of 45 comprise 17 per cent of the workforce, could this lack of support lead to a loss of valuable talent?
It’s a question Petrina Coventry (FCPHR), chief HR officer at Santos in South Australia, is asking as she completes a PhD at Melbourne University, which includes an investigation into the voluntary departure of female corporate executives over the age of 40.
She cites sexism and lack of opportunity for career development as reasons why some women may leave senior ranks, and believes menopause remains under-researched.
“This is the very beginning of people becoming aware of whether or not it’s an issue, and it’s still to be proven either way,” she says. “We’ve run an analysis to see if there are any statistical trends and, to be honest, we couldn’t find any connections between menopause and discrimination, or menopause and higher attrition rates, or menopause and career development opportunities.”