As half the UK workforce is female, and 3.5 million of these women are aged 50 and over, it has become increasingly clear that employers need to pay more attention to occupational health issues for women.
However, menopause is still often seen as taboo, which can mean there is a lack of support for women who find that menopausal symptoms are affecting their ability to effectively do their job. And while the average age for menopause is 51, some women do go through it at a younger age due to surgery, illness or other health reasons.
The years leading up to menopause – the end of a woman’s periods – is known as perimenopause. This can bring with it a host of symptoms for some, although not all, women. These include poor memory and concentration, sleep disturbance, mood swings and hot flushes – and they can all have an impact on performance in the workplace.
So with this in mind, how do you go about talking to your employer if you think you need extra support?
Let’s face it, there may be an awkwardness, embarrassment and the fear you won’t be taken seriously. It can be hard enough talking to a GP about your symptoms. Many women find it particularly hard to talk to a line manager who may be male, or younger than them, as they feel they won’t understand enough about the impact of menopausal symptoms. In fact, a study by The University of Nottingham showed that nearly 50% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms believed their job performance had been negatively affected. And the same study showed that the majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause-related problems to managers, particularly where the managers were young and/or male.
First, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your manager is a professional, that there is an increasing awareness about the impact menopause symptoms can have at work, and that you deserve to be listened to.
This simple confident conversation framework can help you get the best possible outcome.
Prepare for your meeting. Keep a diary of your menopause symptoms and how they’re affecting you. And also think about the practical, reasonable adjustments that would help you, being flexible and ideally with different options. It may be that these are only for a short period of time while you work with your medical professional to alleviate your symptoms. Include a timeframe, too.
This will help you have a much better conversation resulting in a good outcome for both you and your employer.
Book a time. Booking a meeting means you’ll have time and ideally a private office to talk and will be more likely to explain everything in the right way.
Prepare what to say. Mentally rehearse what you’re going to say so when you talk to your boss the words feel and sound natural. You could even do a mini role play with a trusted friend.
Explain your situation clearly. Talk to your boss about your current situation, what’s happening and most importantly how’s it affecting your work.
For example, you’re experiencing hot flushes which are embarrassing you and preventing you from speaking up in meetings.
Or night sweats mean you’re not sleeping so you’re too tired to think clearly and it’s taking you longer to make decisions or complete tasks.
Offer a solution. Think about how your circumstances could be improved and offer a reasonable solution. Could you work from home or come into work later on some days if poor sleep is an issue for you? If the temperature in your office is making hot flushes worse, can you have a fan or move to a desk near an air conditioning unit or window you can open?
Have you got adequate access to drinking water and toilet facilities – if not, how could this be rectified?
Talk these through with your manager and request that some or all of these are put in place as reasonable adjustments, perhaps on a flexible basis so they can be reviewed as appropriate.
Don’t expect an answer immediately. Remember, this may have been bothering you for a long time, you’ve been mentally rehearsing and gathering your courage but it may be the first time your boss has heard about it. Allow them time to digest the information and seek advice if necessary.
Follow up. At the end of the meeting put a time in the diary to meet again, whether that’s to agree a way forward, to monitor progress or update.
Above all, remember this is just two professional people having a conversation. It’s in both your best interests to find a good solution.
All anyone wants is for you to be fit and well and do your job to the best of your ability. Menopause can be isolating if you don’t talk to someone but remember all women go through menopause at some point, so you most certainly are not alone.
Why not lead the change, take action and set up an informal or formal support group at work? Arrange to meet regularly with other women in your workplace experiencing similar symptoms and issues, a great opportunity to share your experiences and ease your load.