Belinda Steffan

Guest blog by Belinda Steffan, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at University of Edinburgh Business School. Belinda’s research focuses on the psychology of women’s health at work and she is a member of the Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work project, funded by the UKRI/ESRC.,

The veterinary profession is currently experiencing a retention and recruitment crisis due to unprecedented labour supply constraints and demand for vets’ services. The industry trend appears to be that women are leaving the profession disproportionately more than men1, so an exploration of the reasons behind why women appear to be leaving the veterinary professions is timely. I come to this question as a researcher of women’s health at work, not as a vet, but I see many similarities in the vet profession (surgeons and nurses) as in my broader research on women’s health at work. Vets are an interesting professional group for a researcher on women’s health to consider. In particular, I’m interested in why 85% of vets graduating university level are female, yet only 65% of practicing vets are female and career progression may be constrained for women11. In short, why are women leaving the veterinary professions?

Menopause and veterinary life

A recent survey of veterinary team members across the UK1, conducted by Veterinary Woman in conjunction with SPVS, revealed that menopause impacted the career of 72% of female respondents in some way, including reducing hours and leaving practice partnerships. Interestingly, this survey also found that 53% of respondents would like to know more about menopause from both a personal and work perspective.

In the Veterinary Woman survey1, the main menopause symptoms reported by women working in veterinary practice were:

• Increased anxiety, mood swings and loss of confidence

• Joint aches making surgery and heavy lifting more challenging

• Sleeplessness, dizziness and poor concentration, which affected all aspects of life and work

Our research at the University of Edinburgh Business School has found that menopause symptoms can be more challenging where there is a lack of flexible work opportunities, in work that is physical or high stress, and where there is limited control over time and place of work. Having spoken to a number of vets in recent months, these conditions might well summarise the working conditions of most veterinary teams.

So, what is menopause and why should we all know more about it?

Menopause is a time of change and transition for almost all women* in mid to later life. In the UK, around 80% of women between the ages of 40 and 55 experience menopause symptoms3. Menopause symptoms can last up to 10 years, where 25% of women suffer ‘severe’ symptoms that adversely impact their performance at work3. Menopause symptoms (there are at least 34 of them) differ considerably from woman to woman and often within women themselves from week to week, month to month, year to year. Diverse symptoms, and their varying severity, can have a very different influence over how and when women work, often in response to the type of job. 

It was recently reported that 10% of women leave paid work due to menopause symptoms2 and 14 million working days are lost annually to menopause symptoms3. This figure might only be the tip of the iceberg as many women I have spoken with left work without disclosing menopause as the reason, quietly opting to leave work or move to a lower stress, potentially lower paid job. Society’s portrayal of older women doesn’t help, with few older women as role models championing the cause for menopause.

Normalising and de-stigmatising menopause through increased awareness is a current topic of academic, organisational and societal interest, particularly salient as more women than ever before work through their entire menopause cycle4. We are seeing more of this recently with a form of celebrity endorsement of menopause awareness and campaigning opening the conversation of menopause at work. We know that reducing the ‘taboo’ nature of menopause at work5 and drawing on social support networks can help women at work6, but we should also be mindful that not all women want to speak about menopause at work. Some reasons provided by women who we have interviewed include gendered ageism, where women fear they may be discriminated against for being older and a woman5, a desire for privacy, and separation between their work and home lives.

Our understanding of menopause at work has increased significantly over the past few years thanks to the current wave of academic, peer-reviewed research, importantly moving away from anecdotal and less rigorous evidence. At the University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS) we are currently conducting research on menopause through a Menopause and Flexible Work study and also through a broader Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work (SHAW) project (see

In this research on menopause, we found that women cope with menopause at work using social and psychological mechanisms to conceal work performance, hiding and denying symptoms, often speaking about themselves in self-deprecating language7. In response to these findings, we have to ask ourselves:

  • Is hiding menopause really coping?
  • What can we do to highlight, even problematise this ‘coping through hiding’ behaviour?
  • How can we help women stay at work in the jobs that they want, maintain their performance, and retain their confidence at work without feeling that they have to hide this natural, biological change?

Menopause needs more than awareness and an organisational blanket policy, it needs women themselves to have an understanding of their changing bodies and how these changes can be supported by work.

Understanding menopause – empowering women through knowledge

Research conducted by myself and Professor Kristina Potočnik at UEBS, has shown that in order to understand menopause, we need to make a distinction between physical and psychological symptoms. In a recent article6, we report that the use of personal coping strategies, such as concentrating on fewer work tasks or prioritising tasks, alongside line manager and female peer support reduced the negative impact of physical symptoms on work performance. What was interesting though, was that when women used their coping strategies to try to combat psychological symptoms, work performance was adversely affected. We are currently working on a new project to get to the bottom of these intriguing results around how and why physical symptoms can be ‘coped with’ more easily than psychological symptoms.

A recent literature review on menopause suggests that women themselves have little understanding about menopause, which is out of balance with other natural, biological changes such as pregnancy8. While a burgeoning media and academic body of taboo-reducing, awareness-building work is encouraged, we suggest taking a step back to understand how women themselves make sense of this deeply personal transition within themselves at work. A paper I published last year7 reported how women engaged in an internal battle around menopause as exemplified by Laura, a 50-year-old teacher:

[Women should make] an effort in their appearance, in their self‐preservation … women put on weight as we get older, but we should be allowed to do that without any stigma … I do think that women need to help themselves …I have a huge internal battle with it … I want to embrace it … there is a physiological reason why this is happening to me, there’s not a lot I can do … [it’s] as if I’ve done something wrong. (Laura, 50, teacher)

Building on this work, the SHAW Project led by Professor Wendy Loretto, is revealing some very interesting findings around how women feel a lack of understanding about the menopause itself, but also how they might be supported by their employer:

I don’t know what [organisations] are doing [about supporting menopause at work]. There’s nothing they could have done for me, because I didn’t know that’s what was causing me to forget words now and again. I thought that was just a getting old thing. (Mary, 54, from the SHAW Project)

We know that 70% of women report “self-stigma” around menopause-related burnout symptoms2 and that that women engage in making sense of their bodies in response to menopause as a work identity threat (in forthcoming publication10). The following quote is from one of our participants, which shows the complicated nature of experiencing menopause at work, and how many women don’t truly understand menopause until they are post-menopausal:

Low mood was my worst symptom. Lack of ability to cope with stress… it was a lack of confidence, anxiety… mostly mental rather than physical… I think the problem is, I probably would have said I was coping well with those symptoms at work… With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that those symptoms were having a very bad effect on work and me at work and how I felt about work. So I think at the time I thought it was just me. So as a typical woman [I] blamed myself… I didn’t blame it on the menopause at the time, I perhaps blame it on the menopause now… Probably about three years ago I think the scales fell from my eyes and I realised it wasn’t me and, well it was me because I wasn’t coping well from a menopausal perspective but also it was the situation I was in… (Miranda, aged 54, from the Menopause & Flexible Work study)

Engaging stakeholders – let’s get everyone talking about menopause (if they want to)

The current cohort of women experiencing menopause are the vehicle for change in how menopause is understood, discussed and ‘managed’ in the workplace. Awareness is welcomed by many women, but not all, so respecting an individual approach to managing menopause at work is crucial.

In order to make a real difference to women experiencing menopause symptoms at work, the SHAW project has identified the need to incorporate a range of stakeholders in the conversation.

Stakeholder Veterinary professions
Individual workers experiencing menopause Veterinary surgeons, nurses and support team members – increased awareness of menopause, its temporal nature, potential impact on work, and support available.
Line managers and HR Do line managers know enough about menopause? What can HR to support women who need it? Many women feel that empathy is required to manage menopause10.
Senior managers Consider how the masculinised organisational culture of the veterinary industry11 is experienced by women, especially those experiencing menopause symptoms.
Corporate owners/shareholders Retention strategies focused on women in mid to later life should consider the impact of menopause, and how to support women to stay at work, if they wish to do so.
Government The UK recently declared the lack of vets as a public health issue, specifically around concerns of animal welfare. In addition, there are significant gaps in this part of the labour market.
Stakeholders of the veterinary professions and their role in managing menopause at work

Research goals and activities

Our current research focus is on learning more about how women experience menopause at work and how they can be supported to make a real difference to how and when they work, how they can keep working (if they want to) and knowing who and how to ask to be supported at work.

Moving forward, we will be working with the veterinary community towards practical outcomes to make real change to individuals and organisations. Our goals are to:

  • Better understand the impact of menopause at work for women in the veterinary professions – taking individual stories and experiences and finding commonality to make policy work more effective;
  • Provide organisations with the tools to better support their female workforce, focusing on informal support and retention;
  • Report and highlight the post-menopause positives (confidence, resilience, bodily freedom), working towards a positive narrative on menopause to reduce stigma;
  • Increase awareness of other women’s health; menopause overlaps with other health issues such as anxiety and sleep;
  • Test workplace interventions in vet practices, in conjunction with the SHAW Project in 2023/24.

While menopause affects almost all women in mid to later life, the veterinary professions have some unique challenges due to the physical, stressful, time-bound nature of their work and the masculinised11 nature of the industry. We look forward to providing vet practices and organisations with practical tools to help support female members of veterinary teams at work. We also welcome the opportunity to help inform and empower women themselves to not only cope with menopause at work, but to view menopause as a time of change, strength and beginning of a vibrant new chapter of working life.



2 Bazeley A, Marren C & Shepherd A (2022) Menopause and the Workplace. Fawcett Society, April 2022.

3 Office for National Statistics (2016) Accessed July 2022

4 Atkinson C, Beck V, Brewis J (2021) Menopause and the workplace: New directions in HRM research and HR practice. Human Resource Management Journal, 31(1), 49–64.

5 Grandey AA, Gabriel AS and King EB (2020) Tackling taboo topics: A review of the three M’s in working women’s lives. Journal of Management, 46(1), 7–35

6 Steffan B & Potočnik K (2021) Thinking outside Pandora’s Box: Revealing differential effects of coping with physical and psychological menopause symptoms at work. Human Relations, 00187267221089469.

7 Steffan B (2021) Managing menopause at work: The contradictory nature of identity talk. Gender, Work & Organization, 28(1), 195-214.

8 Verdonk P, Bendien E, Appelman, Y (2022) Menopause and work: A narrative literature review about menopause, work and health. Work, 72, 483-496.

9 Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work Project (SHAW). See

10 Steffan B & Potočnik K. Making sense of menopause: identity threat and reconstruction at work. Working paper, details available from author.

11 Treanor L & Marlow S (2021) Paws for thought? Analysing how prevailing masculinities constrain career progression for UK women veterinary surgeons. Human Relations, 74(1), 105-130.

*In my research on women’s health at work, I acknowledge that all people who menstruate can experience menopause, however, we use ‘women’ as a representative term of throughout this article, and throughout my broader research. I also acknowledge that not all women will experience menopause due to individual health conditions.

Note: Participant names used in this article are pseudonyms.

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