14 April 2022

In March 2021, the Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work (SHAW) research project, based at the University of Edinburgh Business School, was awarded a £2 million grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of its Healthy Ageing Challenge.
Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work: Importance of Menopause

Aligning with UK Government initiatives to increase healthy life expectancy within our ageing population, the SHAW project will provide evidence-based data to contribute to workplace policy and interventions to help support people stay in work for as long as they want or need to.

The study focuses on aspects of health that have typically received less attention in occupational health policies and practices: the menopause*, health impacts caused by unpaid caring responsibilities, cognitive ageing and associated mental health and wellbeing, and financial wellbeing.

The effects of the menopause on work has historically been a taboo subject, but in recent years the research team have noticed a shift in momentum. Professor Wendy Loretto, Principal Investigator of the SHAW project, said: "Taking about the menopause is no longer the taboo area of conversation that it once was. We’re seeing a lot of industry-led work gathering anecdotal data about the emotional and physical impacts that women experience while juggling the workplace with going through the menopause.

"The aim of our project is to provide data-driven evidence to keep up with—and contribute to—these important societal conversations that are now beginning to happen more openly."

One of the challenges in designing menopause-specific workplace interventions is that the menopause itself is incredibly hard to define. With 34 known symptoms, women can experience a wide range of symptoms that can change frequently in both combination and intensity. Added to that, some women can go through the menopause ‘symptom-free’.

We are pleased to now report that Stage 1 of the project—in-depth interviews with 175 workplace employees—has been completed. Participants came from four workplace settings: NatWest Group; Babcock; Blackwood; and self-employment.

Initial findings indicate that women experiencing menopause-related issues preferred solutions tailored to their individual circumstances rather than blanket workplace policies. The attitudes and roles of line managers were seen as crucial—both in terms of whether or not women felt they could disclose any menopause-related difficulties, and in the empathy they would be shown.

So what is next for the project? Based on the key themes emerging from the interviews, the SHAW design team (which includes researchers from Design Informatics and Medical Informatics) are embarking on a co-design phase with a range of the interviewees. The aim is to co-create an intervention (such as a tool, app or training) that will help women and their employers better combine work and menopause challenges.

Upon completion of Stage 2, the project will work with a range of industry partners to test and promote widespread adoption of these interventions, to help support health needs of an older workforce, and improve their overall wellbeing.

To find out more about this project, visit the Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work website.

*While we acknowledge that menopause is experienced by trans men as well as cisgender women, our participants all identified as cisgender women.