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Menopause and the NHS: caring for and retaining the older workforce

12 September 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 16


Menopause is a natural transition affecting most women between the ages of 45 and 55. Three-quarters of women will experience mild to moderate menopausal symptoms and a further quarter will report them as severe. Symptoms can include night sweats, hot flushes, poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory and lowered confidence. The workplace can exacerbate these symptoms and for some women can influence their decision to stop working earlier than previously intended. The need for support and understanding from managers is crucial and can make a major difference to how a woman deals with her menopause. Many women enter the menopause at the peak of their productive lives. These women have valuable skills, knowledge and experience that employers need to retain, so they should be developing resources to help navigate this normal and natural stage of the ageing process.

Menopause is a significant transition in every woman's life and is experienced differently by each one. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 to 55 years with the average age of onset being 51 years (Hunter and Rendall, 2007). In the UK, the employment rate for women was 72.1% in April to June 2019—the highest on record since comparable records began in 1971 (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2019). More than 4 million employed females are between the ages of 50 and 64 years (ONS, 2019). Thus, many women are, or will be, progressing through this important life stage while they are working (Griffiths et al, 2010; Kopenhager and Guidozzi, 2015).

Despite affecting most women during their working lives, the menopause is a topic that is not often discussed, even regarded as taboo (Faculty of Occupational Medicine, 2016). The absence of open discussion allows negative stereotypes—around body image, ageing, emotional wellbeing and competence in the workplace—to flourish and leaves many women feeling unsupported (Hardy et al, 2019a). Approximately 89% of nurses are female, of whom 48.9% are aged over 45 years (Royal College of Nursing, 2019). These older nurses represent a significant and growing proportion of the healthcare workforce and yet menopause is rarely discussed or recognised as having an impact on their performance at work.

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