As many organisations make huge shifts in awareness around how to support female employees through their midlife years, it is important that the foundations of understanding about how the perimenopause impacts people are in place.

Whilst this season of a woman’s life is often spoken about in broader terms of menopause, actually by definition the menopause is only one day! Menopause itself is the day when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. The years leading up to this point, where women may experience many challenging symptoms, is actually called perimenopause.

What is perimenopause?

From approximately the age of 35, the hormones that play fundamental roles in women’s wellbeing, begin to decline. Most notable are oestrogen & progesterone. Unlike men, whose hormones are not affected in the same way, this significant reduction in hormones can impact women’s health and therefore how they are able to show up in their lives, including impacting their career.

These hormones affect so many systems in the body including cognitive function, mood balance, energy levels, digestive system, immunity, inflammation (linked with pain), skin elasticity and so much more. It is understandable therefore that when these hormones decline, women will experience challenges they had not previously. It is also important to note that the symptoms will vary from woman to woman, as will the length of time each woman experiences them.

Perimenopause symptoms

Some of the symptoms can include:

  • Increased allergies
  • Mood imbalance
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Tingling extremities

There are many more symptoms but this range shows how often perimenopause may be misdiagnosed, particularly in women during earlier phases of perimenopause. This can lead to women not receiving the support they need, especially in the workplace.

Perimenopause and work

Historically organisations have failed to adapt to the changing needs of women during their career. This has limited women’s careers as they may not have really understood their symptoms or felt supported at work. This has led to significant business challenges, low job satisfaction and ultimately damaging talent loss.

With so many gaps in understanding the symptoms around perimenopause and it still being largely a taboo topic, it is challenging for employers to even begin to unpick the impact this stage of a woman’s life has on the workplace, especially if she feels unsafe to openly talk about her experience.

Studies consistently show that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on performance and attendance. We believe that this is largely due to a lack of understanding of how hormonal fluctuations can be effectively managed in order to ensure minimal impact on performance outcomes.

A, recent UK study undertaken by Dr Louise Newson, a Menopause Specialist, found that the majority of participants felt menopause, or the months and years leading up to it (perimenopause), had a huge impact on their careers. Therefore it is significant for organisations to actively seek solutions.

How can perimenopause impact work?

Some of the impacts that perimenopause can have in the workplace include:

  • Both short & long term absenteeism (that may or may not be correctly or obviously linked to perimenopause)
  • Reduction in efficiency
  • Poorer quality of work
  • Lacking concentration
  • Resignation and early retirement of experienced employees
  • Avoidance of promotion

Acknowledging that both female employees and managers may be reluctant to engage in these conversations provides an additional layer of complexity to managing perimenopause. Without encouragement and proactive engagement between the organisation & employees, there will always be risk that menopause a will go under the radar.

How can workplaces become perimenopause-friendly?

The good news is that there is lots that can be done to ensure that women’s needs are met in the at work, so that we do not lose experienced, highly trained and skilled employees at the peak of their career. Some suggestions include:

  • Ensure that perimenopause and menopause is included as part of any diversity & inclusion agendas
  • Have a menopause policy in place
  • Ensure managers and staff are well trained in understanding this condition & how to support women
  • Accessing high quality health advice from experienced women’s health experts
  • Have menopause champions
  • Offer menopause clinics
  • Ensure staff have access to the most to date information on managing their health & wellbeing during this phase of their life by accessing training through services like Perimeno…WHAT?!

Women need an individual approach to managing their health & wellbeing to reduce staff absences, reduce the impact on their performance, feel supported by their employer and produce high quality work. It is no longer acceptable for women to have to make the difficult decision between leaving a career they have invested their life in or struggle through with sometimes debilitating menopausal symptoms. The tide is truly turning!