Hormonal Health – the last Workplace Taboo?

Hormonal health has traditionally been seen as a private matter and so is rarely discussed. Not surprisingly many managers will have no awareness of the scope and nature of the issues involved. This means employees spend a lot of time and energy hiding their symptoms.

In a survey by Nuffield Health, two thirds of women revealed they were suffering from hormonal issues that were having a detrimental effect on their lives. Further studies have shown that due to the stigma associated with hormonal problems and the fear of being labelled ‘fragile’, ‘flaky’, or ‘over emotional’, women would rather resign from their jobs than have to confront their managers regarding their hormonal health.

Good hormonal health requires hormones to be in balance. Hormonal imbalances occur when normal levels and production of hormones in the endocrine system, or their ratio to other hormones, is disrupted. We tend to focus most attention on sex hormones related to females through pregnancy, periods and menopause. However, there are many types of hormones and they control many functions including metabolism, weight, thyroid function, sleep cycles and the body’s response to stress, affecting men and women alike.

Despite the incredible importance of hormones to our overall health, men and women are often unaware of the symptoms and health issues related to hormonal imbalance eg polycystic ovarian syndrome (a common cause of infertility), oestrogen dominance leading to severe perimenopausal systems such as heavy periods, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, adrenal stress, diabetes and even andropause (the male menopause).

Women make up half of the UK’s workforce and both genders are now working much later in life, so hormonal imbalances will affect more people at work than ever before and they will, at times, affect the productivity and performance levels of individuals.

Yet, due to the complex nature of hormones and hormone imbalances, their effects are complex and can vary drastically from person to person. For example, there are over 30 known symptoms associated with the menopause, but only tiredness, lack of concentration and problems regulating temperature are widely recognised.

A 2017 study by the University of Leicester regarding menopause transition, identified that employers could do a great deal to reduce problems for women workers, including: improvements to temperature control and ventilation in the workplace, introducing and promoting flexible work patterns and educating employees about some of the challenges faced by women dealing with hormonal changes and transitions.

Workplace initiatives regarding hormonal health do not have to be complicated or expensive to be effective. For example:

  • Highlight hormonal issues as part of a wider occupational health awareness and education programme
  • Allow men and women to report sick to a manager of the same gender
  • Provide time off to attend medical appointments during working hours, where practical
  • Offer more flexible breaks during the day and don’t penalise people who need to take regular toilet breaks
  • Improve welfare facilities such as providing adjustable temperature and humidity controls and provide fresh drinking water
  • Alter absence policies to ensure those suffering from hormonal and cyclical health issues experience no detriment because of their need to take time off.

Employers that adopt a more open approach and flexible attitude to work are better placed to ensure that hormonal-related issues are dealt with appropriately and sensitively in the workplace. This will not only lead to a healthier and happier workforce, but a more productive one too.

If you need help in implementing flexible work practices and well-being initiatives, please contact me.

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