It’s time we shifted our mindsets when it comes to women, menopause and work.
We know that the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51. And that women are generally working until later in life. Which means some women could be working for 15 or 20 years beyond their menopause – more if they have an early menopause. So it’s time to shift our thinking in terms of menopause from ‘this is the end’ to ‘this is a new chapter’.
Menopause symptoms don’t just switch themselves off when you arrive at work, much as you might wish they did. And being your best at work can sometimes be difficult if you’ve a host of menopausal symptoms. Many of us worry about talking about it or asking for support.
In fact, we hear from a lot of women who don’t talk about menopause at work. They might be embarrassed, concerned about what people will think, worry that menopause is associated with ageing and being ‘old’ and ‘past it’, or that they might be passed over for promotion.
How can symptoms affect us at work?
While hot flushes are the stereotypical symptoms, the ones that many women say affect them most at work are the psychological ones – anxiety and worry, difficulty concentrating, or memory problems – the dreaded brain fog.
Top of all is lack of sleep, insomnia and fatigue, and yes hot flushes are in there too.
It’s easy to understand how these can sap our confidence, rob us of our mojo and even stop us from putting ourselves forward for promotions we’d previously given our right arm for.
And our workplace can sometimes make our symptoms worse, such as stress, high temperature, poor ventilation, and not being able to just take a break now and then.
Women tell us they’ve reduced their hours or transferred to a less demanding role to cope, one in four consider leaving work and one in ten actually do. That’s not right. Work’s about more than just money – it pays the bills but it’s good for us, what we do is part of who we are, gives us purpose and is about our social needs too. Menopause shouldn’t get in the way.
What can you and your employer do?
Your employer is responsible for your wellbeing while you’re at work, and it’s their job to create an environment where everyone is treated fairly and with respect, and is safe. It’s good for their bottom line, too – they’ve invested in you, want you to be at your best and it makes no sense for them to lose talented people.
We don’t think twice about maternity support – it’s time for us to do the same with menopause. Not every woman will need it but for those that do, it’s a massive boost. Sometimes it’s really just about the little things, even being able to talk about it.
Does your employer have a menopause policy, guidance information or just factsheets? Policies aren’t law, but it’s best practice to be clear how they support menopausal women and everyone knows where to find it.
Awareness is key. Everyone needs to understand what menopause is and how it can affect a woman, this should just be a normal conversation. There are lots of ways employers can do this, from training sessions and workshops to support groups – online or in person. It’s good to know you’re not alone.
Starting the conversations
It’s in everyone’s best interests that menopause at work is a normal conversation at work – not off limits. But some women don’t feel comfortable talking to their line manager, it can be a sensitive subject and they worry about how their manager might respond.
It’s really important not to make any assumptions. So, your line manager is a younger man? That’s no reason that he can’t conduct a professional, confidential conversation about menopause with you.
Set up a meeting with your manager – or someone you feel comfortable talking to – and give them a heads up of what you’d like to discuss. After all, you’re probably living and breathing menopause at the moment, but they need time to do their prep.
Check out what your organisation already has. Do they cover menopause in the handbook or on the intranet – or a policy. Are there any menopause support groups in your organisation?
Do your prep for the meeting, outlining what your symptoms are, what you’re doing about them, how they affect you at work and what kind of support you’re looking for. It’s your menopause, and only you know what works and what doesn’t for you.
Not just for women, men are involved too
Yes, women experience menopause first hand, but all those around us experience it too – our partners, friends, colleagues, family. All can play a vital support role.