2nd May 2022

A landmark study based on data from the largest ever survey of menopausal and peri-menopausal women in the UK reveals a shocking lack of support for often severe symptoms which mean the needs of menopausal women are being ignored both in the workplace and by healthcare providers.

The report produced by the Fawcett Society is based on survey data commissioned by Channel 4 of over 4,000 women. The findings feature in Channel 4 documentary “Davina McCall: Sex, Mind and the Menopause” and show the majority of women (77%) find at least one menopause symptom ‘very difficult’, while 44% of women experience three or more symptoms that are this severe. Women are most likely to say they find sleeping (84%), brain fog (73%), and anxiety or depression (69%) are difficult.

44% of menopausal women in employment say their ability to work has been affected by their symptoms. Despite this, 8 in 10 menopausal women say their workplace has no basic support in place for them – no support networks (79%), no absence policies (81%) and no information sharing with staff (79%). A fifth – 21% - of women who have to wear uniform or a dress code to work say it is uncomfortable given their symptoms, rising to 28% among working class women (in the DE social group). 81% of menopausal women say every employer should have an action plan on the menopause.

The report uncovers the stigma many women face, with 41% saying they have seen menopause or menopause symptoms treated as a joke by people at work. Among women who had taken time off due to menopause, 39% had cited anxiety or depression as the main reason on their sick note, rather than share their menopause status.

In this environment of stigma, almost half (45%) of women haven’t spoken to their GP surgery about their symptoms. Of the women who have approached their surgery, 31% said it took many appointments before their GP realised they were experiencing menopause or perimenopause. Official guidance says that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) should be offered to women who are struggling with menopause symptoms, but just 39% of women say their GP or nurse offered HRT as soon as they knew they were experiencing menopause, and only 14% of menopausal women said that they are currently taking HRT. Current HRT shortages have been widely reported as due to increased demand – but this evidence suggests that we are only seeing the beginning of the potential rise in uptake.

Jemima Olchawski, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

Menopausal women are experiencing unnecessary misery and it’s a national scandal. From waiting too long for the right care, to uniforms that cause unnecessary discomfort – women are being badly let down.

Too often menopause symptoms have been dismissed as a joke and HRT has been labelled a lifestyle drug. But with 44% of women facing three or more severe symptoms, our research helps to dispel that nonsense. Faced with that misinformation, is it a wonder that only half of women are even seeking help from their GP?

The Government needs to make urgent changes, from requiring employers to have menopause action plans, to creating a route into menopause healthcare, to ensuring that GPs are adequately trained to spot menopause symptoms. For too long, menopause has been shrouded in stigma, we need to break the culture of silence and ensure menopausal women are treated with the dignity and support they deserve instead of being expected to just get on with it.

The report, which was sponsored by construction, residential development, and property services business the Wates Group, draws on data from over 4,000 respondents and because of this we can look in detail at the experiences of different kinds of women. The report shows that:

  • 22% of disabled women who have been employed during the menopause said they had left a job due to their symptoms compared to 9% for non-disabled women
  • 23% of key worker women say that their uniforms are uncomfortable given their menopause symptoms
  • 45% of Black and minoritised women say it took many appointments for their GP to realise they were experiencing the menopause, compared to 30% of white women.

Urgent change is needed, and Fawcett is calling on the Government to respond to these findings by:

  • Requiring employers to have menopause action plans
  • Make flexible work the default
  • Implementing a public information campaign – 87% of menopausal women agree that all women in their 40s or 50s should be sent a list of menopause symptoms by the NHS, and 81% agree that Government should run a public campaign to inform people about the menopause.
  • Inviting every woman in her 40s or 50s to speak with her GP about menopause – 87% of women agree this should happen
  • Ensuring GPs receive mandatory training to help diagnose menopause earlier – 94% of women agree that every GP practice should have someone who is trained on the menopause.

Carolyn Harris MP said:

Women aren't asking for a lot - we make up 51% of the population and we all go through the menopause. But too many doctors are still out there prescribing antidepressants instead of HRT because they aren’t getting sufficient training and they haven't got up to date information.  And, whilst there are pockets of really good practice out there, too few employers are providing any form of support for the women who work for them.

This is a big issue, and we need big solutions - but they don’t need to be expensive or particularly complex. Women, need the right information and support and for them to get that we need to ensure that medical professionals and employees are also getting the right information and support too - it's not that difficult to do.”

David Allen, Chief Executive, from Wates Group, who have sponsored the report, said:

At Wates, we care for the health and wellbeing of all our colleagues. By definition, this means we are committed to supporting women going through menopause.

We are proud to have sponsored this report, which makes a number of important recommendations.  The real, lasting change that’s needed to increase understanding and improve support around menopause can only be delivered through effective collaboration between business, government and society.  So, the provision of flexible working options, better training for managers and leaders, and access to support networks will have their maximum impact only if they’re supported by a national public health campaign and easier access to primary care services.

The full press release is available here

The ‘Menopause and the Workplace’ report can be found here.