Despite the general menopause discussion growing louder, recent research from Peppy, the digital health platform, shows that this isn’t necessarily the case in the workplace: three quarters* (78%) of employees with menopause symptoms admit they have not spoken about menopause at work.
However, the company believes that employers should anticipate an increase in demand for workplace menopause support following Davina McCall’s new documentary for Channel 4: The Menopause Brain Drain. The programme highlights how declining hormone levels during the menopause years can be associated with sudden forgetfulness and a lack of concentration, most-commonly referred to as ‘brain fog’.
Of the 548 respondents to Peppy’s survey of employees experiencing menopausal symptoms, the findings showed that 80% had sleep problems, 78% had brain fog, 77% had difficulty remembering things, 73% had anxiety, and 67% had difficulty focusing.
Eighty-eight per cent of employees said that perimenopause or menopause affected their ability to work:
- 69% felt less able to concentrate
67% felt less confident in their ability
63% felt more stressed
Kathy Abernethy, Director of Menopause Services, Peppy commented: “Brain fog – and the forgetfulness, self-doubt and imposter syndrome that may come with it – is an issue that workplaces need to take seriously. What’s more, brain fog and other symptoms of menopause are not just limited to a short period of people’s lives. They can begin months or even years before periods stop and persist for an average of four years or more.
“Davina’s recent documentary will undoubtedly give some employees additional confidence about speaking to their employer about how brain fog is impacting their working life. Employees need to be prepared, as for some, this will be an enormous step with associated concerns about how they will be perceived going forwards.”
The impact of brain fog
Peppy explains that some employees may forget what they are saying mid-sentence and for others, a seemingly simple task can turn into one that takes much longer than expected. This can create immense stress and anxiety in anticipation of meetings, deadlines and everyday work. Employees may also doubt their ability, value and performance, or consider taking sick days, changing job or leaving the workplace altogether.
Of the employees who had spoken to their employer about their symptoms, 38% asked for flexible working (or to work from home) and 36% asked for support with emotional wellbeing. Although improved access to toilets/toilet breaks and a change to uniform or clothing were requested these were far outweighed by requests for support with the psychological and emotional symptoms.
What can employers do to support staff with brain fog?
Kathy Abernethy said: “Company-wide training and education is a really important first step in supporting employees with the symptoms of menopause.
“If an employee wants to speak up or ask for help and their line manager’s only knowledge of menopause is hot flushes, it’s not going to be a productive conversation. Employers and managers need to be empowered with the knowledge to confidently have these discussions and crucially to also understand the pathway of support available.”
Other means to support staff include:
- appointing menopause champions, or virtual or in-person ‘menopause cafés’, as a practical way to raise awareness, break down stigma and encourage open conversations.
- offering access to confidential, clinically led, specialist menopause and mental wellbeing support to help employees recognise the symptoms of brain fog and menopause in themselves as well as discuss treatment options.
- recommending trusted resources and expert advice, so that employees can access the latest news and information, without having to fall down a rabbit hole on Google.
Kathy Abernethy advised: “Supporting menopausal employees must start with awareness – helping them and those around them understand why they are suffering from brain fog. The second step is support with how to manage the symptoms, and that requires practical guidance and expert support. Taking these steps will help employers reap the rewards of a happier, healthier and more diverse workforce.”