13 May 2022

Menopause is one of the most distinctive and individualised aspects of health-related gendered ageing at work. This fact is growing increasingly more important, as more women* than ever before are working through their entire menopause cycle.

A new study, led by the Business School, has applied an adaptive behavioural strategy model—Selection, Optimisation, and Compensation (SOC)—to provide a nuanced analysis of how women manage their menopause symptoms and how these symptoms affect their performance and retention in the workplace. For instance, women might be prioritising their work-related goals differently, or they might change the ways of achieving their goals in order to cope with the adverse impact of menopause symptoms.

There are over 34 defined symptoms of the menopause, and while they vary widely, they can largely be classified into two categories: physical and psychological. Based upon extensive mixed-method data collection, it was found that women used learned adaptive behaviours as coping mechanisms in attempts to alleviate the impact of their physical symptoms on work performance.

However, rather unexpectedly, the data also shows that when women suffer from severe psychological symptoms, the use of SOC coping strategies are detrimental rather than beneficial for their performance.

Dr Belinda Steffan, co-author and postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Business School, said: "We are proud that these novel findings not only make a significant contribution to the literature on gendered ageing at work, but also to SOC theory. We've now shown that using SOC strategies might in fact be damaging when women attempt to cope with psychological menopause symptoms, such as anxiety and depression."

Rather than SOC strategies, it was having social support in the workplace, such as supervisory and female peer support networks, that was shown to be strongly beneficial for offsetting the effects of psychological symptoms on performance.

Dr Kristina Potočnik, co-author and Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the Business School, said: “We have shown that it is really beneficial for workplaces to offer education around the issues of menopause as part of the diversity and inclusion initiatives for women to feel that they have 'allies' in their workplaces. Having social support at work to manage menopause is key to creating inclusive workplaces in which employees of all ages and genders can work together effectively.”

Read the full research paper

*While we acknowledge that menopause is experienced by trans men as well as cisgender women our participants all identified as cisgender women, and as such we adopt the term 'women' and 'women' throughout this article, at all times acknowledging that menopause could also be experienced by trans men.