Is it the menopause or is it stress?

There is currently a great deal of research interest in the question of whether menopause impacts upon middle-aged women’s work outcomes, but so far the evidence is inconclusive. Recently published Women’s Midlife Health, new research finds that rather than menopausal status, work outcomes were mostly associated with job stress and aspects of the work environment in mid-aged women.

Researchers from King’s College London and the University of Nottingham in the UK explored whether stage of the menopause, and/or having menopausal symptoms, was associated with various measures typically conceptualised as work ‘outcomes’. The team also examined the role of job stress and the working environment.

Using an online survey, data were collected from a sample of 211 pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women in the UK aged 45-60 years. The survey collected sociodemographic information, as well as details of menopausal status, job stress, and the psychosocial work environment (job demands, role clarity, relationships, peer support, managerial support, and change management). The work outcomes of interest included absenteeism, job performance, turnover intention (intention to leave the job), and intention to leave the workforce entirely.

The results show that job stress and the working environment were more relevant to women’s work experience than menopause.

The study found that menopausal status was not significantly related to these work outcomes. Women’s experiences of hot flushes and night sweats – their prevalence, frequency and how problematic they were –  were also unrelated to these outcomes. Only one finding – how problematic hot flushes were, specifically when at work – was significantly associated with intention to leave the workforce, after controlling for age.

The results show that job stress and the working environment were more relevant to women’s work experience than menopause. In particular, higher levels of self-rated stress, poorer job role clarity, poor relationships at work, lower levels of support, low control, poor quality change management, and higher job demands showed significant associations with lower self-rated performance, higher levels of absence and greater intention to leave the organization. When examined together, job stress and job role clarity appeared particularly influential for all work outcomes.

According to one of the authors, Professor Myra Hunter, “It is important that general assumptions about menopausal women are challenged – instead the focus should be to improve quality of the work environment, as well as supporting women with problematic symptoms at work.”

The study used self-reported data and a relatively small UK sample, which may impact on how far the results are generalizable. More research is needed to examine whether these findings are replicated in larger and more diverse samples of women. It would also be useful to include organizational-level or other-rater sources measures of work outcomes.

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