10 MIN READ

Menopause at Work

Supporting People Experiencing the Menopause

Menopause at Work - Supporting People Experiencing the Menopause

© Getty Images
Rixipix

Break the taboo surrounding the menopause!

Hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings, memory loss. These are just some of the symptoms that women can experience during the menopause.

Some women suffer these adverse effects for several years, often at the peak of their career, when they are still raising children and juggling other care-giving responsibilities.

It's no surprise that this transitional period of life can significantly impact women's careers, relationships and home life. In fact, six out of ten women experiencing menopausal symptoms say it has a negative impact on their work, much of which is made worse by the societal taboo that is often associated with the subject. [1]

Menopause shouldn't have to result in women suffering in silence at work – or worse, pressing pause on their careers. In this article, we take a look at what people can do to manage menopausal symptoms at work, as well as what managers and organizations can do to support them.

What Is the Menopause?

A woman is said to have reached the menopause when she's gone 12 months without a menstrual period, but she can experience symptoms for months or even years before this (known as the perimenopause). It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51 in the U.K. and the U.S.. [2] [3]

Symptoms can be both physical and psychological. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Hot flashes (or flushes). This is one of the most common symptoms, experienced by three in four women. They are short, sudden waves of heat, and usually affect the face, neck and chest, making the skin red and sweaty.
  • Irregular periods, which can range from light to very heavy.
  • Night sweats.
  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Reduced libido.
  • Weight gain.
  • Mood changes, such as low mood, anger or anxiety (which can lead to depression).
  • Joint stiffness.
  • Memory problems and loss of concentration (sometimes referred to as "brain fog").

The decline in oestrogen associated with menopause can also increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and osteoporosis (brittle bones) later in life. [2]

How Can Menopause Impact You at Work?

Sometimes the menopause has no impact and women can sail through it with barely a symptom. But this transitional period is not easy for all.

There are the often embarrassing and stressful symptoms to contend with, which can be made worse by the negative perception of menopause in wider society, as well as a lack of accurate knowledge regarding the subject.

All of this can cause people to become isolated, disengaged and demotivated – particularly if they find their workplace uncomfortable and unsupportive. In fact, alarmingly, a 2019 report by Health and Her found that 370,000 women in the U.K. had left work or were contemplating doing so because of the impact of menopausal symptoms. [4]

How to Manage Menopause at Work

For many women, experiencing menopause while at work can feel embarrassing, uncomfortable and distressing. But there are some things that you can do to alleviate the symptoms:

1. Don't Suffer in Silence

Too often, women feel the need to hide their symptoms or pretend that everything is fine, when it's not. On some days, your symptoms may be manageable. But there may be other times when they become severe and you struggle to cope.

If this happens, talk to your doctor or gynecologist. They should be able to identify if the menopause is indeed the cause, and prescribe treatment.

If you still feel as though you're not getting the support you need, ask to be referred to someone with specialist knowledge. In the U.K., the British Menopause Society has an online tool that can help you to find the nearest menopause specialist to you. In the U.S., the North American Menopause Society can provide similar support.

2. Take Control

It may not be possible to combat every symptom of the menopause. But making some simple changes to your lifestyle, such as diet and exercise, can help.

Common advice is to:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption (both of which can make symptoms worse).
  • Minimize stress levels where possible.
  • Take regular exercise to maintain muscle strength and bone density.
  • Think about your diet – try foods that are high in calcium and Vitamin D.
  • Explore different therapies, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or complementary therapies and psychological support, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

3. Talk to Your Manager

You may be embarrassed to broach the subject of menopause with your manager. But if you're worried that your symptoms are worsening or that they're impacting your work, then at some point you will need to talk to them about it.

This may feel particularly challenging if your boss is young or male (or both!). But if you have a good relationship and you can trust them, the likelihood is they will be happy to listen to your concerns and provide support.

Here are some tips to consider when talking to your manager:

  • Be prepared – keep a diary of your symptoms and how they are affecting you, both physically and psychologically.
  • Book a meeting – let your manager know that you would like to discuss a personal matter. That way, your meeting should be given the time and discretion it deserves.
  • State your situation clearly – underline the importance of having their understanding and support. Don't be afraid to give some examples of how your symptoms have affected you and/or prevented you from doing your best work.
  • Offer some solutions – your manager should work with you to provide effective support, but it's always a good idea to bring some solutions to the table, too. For example, if you're suffering from hot flashes regularly, perhaps you could request a desk fan or ask to sit next to a window. Often simple things like this can make a big difference.
  • Follow up – your manager may need to go away and seek further advice on what you've told them. But it's still a good idea to book a follow-up session before your first meeting ends to agree next steps and let your manager know how you're progressing.

Note:

If you feel unable to talk to your manager, talking to a trusted colleague, a different manager or senior leader, or someone from your HR team can also be helpful – and they may still be able to signpost any organizational support available.

4. Share Your Experience

Too often women suffer through the menopause in silence, but it's important to know that you're not alone. While each person's experience will be slightly different, chances are your friends are encountering similar challenges, too.

If no one is talking about it, you might be doing them a favor by starting the conversation. Not only can this be a great source of emotional support, but it's also a good way to share tips and advice. Alternatively, you could find out whether there's a Menopause Café near you. These are informal events where people can get together to discuss their experiences.

How Can Managers and Organizations Provide Support?

The fact is, women over the age of 50 represent the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. [5] And yet one in four menopausal women doesn't get the support that she needs at work. [6]

When organizations fail to listen to women's concerns relating to this topic or to provide effective support, it can result in a toxic combination of sexism and ageism, which can put employers at risk of legal action. For example, the 2010 Equality Act (U.K.) protects workers if they are treated unfairly at work because of the menopause and perimenopause.

Here are some tips on how organizations and managers can support colleagues going through the menopause:

1. Introduce a Menopause Policy and Training

A clear policy or guidance document will help employees, people managers and leaders to understand how to support women experiencing the menopause at work, and to avoid any potential legal issues.

Including a section on menopause in your organization's existing well-being or sickness policies is a good way to start. You may also want to consider introducing formal management training that covers the subject. This will help to improve understanding and confidence around what the menopause means, so that managers know what signs to look out for, how it may impact someone they manage, and what they can do to provide support.

Finding This Article Useful?

You can learn another 275 team management skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club.

Join the Mind Tools Club Today!

2. Communicate Regularly

Open communication is key to creating a supportive and trusting environment, and will enable employees to feel comfortable talking about sensitive matters such as the menopause. Regular one-on-ones can help to create an open culture, and build trust between team members and managers.

Remember, the focus of these meetings doesn't always need to be performance-related! Simply asking people how they're doing can encourage them to open up about issues or problems that they're experiencing. But avoid asking direct questions – instead, take the lead from your team member.

3. Maintain Confidentiality

As with any health condition, if a team member discusses their menopause symptoms with you, remember to keep it confidential. Check what, if anything, they would like to share with colleagues. And be sure to get their explicit consent before any information is shared.

4. Break the Taboo

Research by the Institute of Work, Health and Organisations found that women often find it embarrassing and threatening to talk about the menopause at work because they fear ridicule or hostility from managers. [7]

Consider hosting an organizational campaign on the menopause to break this taboo and to raise awareness. This could be as simple as putting up posters or hosting a talk which could fit into your wider organizational well-being week. You could even consider running your own organization-wide "menopause café," where people can get together to provide support and share their experiences.

Appointing a dedicated health ambassador is another great way of driving awareness. This person can help to spearhead initiatives, signpost support, and drive a dialogue about the menopause.

Not only can these initiatives encourage people to speak up, they can also help to inform everyone about the reality of the menopause – so that it comes to be regarded as a fact of life, rather than a topic to be shied away from.

5. Make Reasonable Adjustments

Sometimes issues can be resolved relatively quickly and easily. Simple things like ensuring that employees can regulate the temperature of their environment, take regular breaks, and have access to a desk fan and suitable washroom facilities can all help people to manage their menopausal symptoms.

Stress is known to make the menopause worse. So do what you can to minimize any undue stressors that your team member may be feeling.

These reasonable adjustments may only need to be temporary. But it's important to discuss individual needs, and to check back regularly to see how your team member is getting on.

Key Points

The menopause can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, from hot flashes, fatigue and weight gain to mood swings, anxiety and even depression. Some people may experience only mild symptoms, while others may find it extremely challenging to cope – particularly at work.

Unfortunately, the menopause is often viewed as a taboo subject, causing many people to feel unable or unwilling to open up about how it's affecting them. But it's important that organizations do their best to provide adequate support. The following tips can help them to do this:

  1. Introduce an official menopause policy and training.
  2. Communicate regularly.
  3. Break the taboo.
  4. Maintain confidentiality.
  5. Make reasonable adjustments.

Often small things can make a big difference for someone experiencing the menopause. For example: providing people with desk fans; providing adequate bathroom facilities; introducing flexible working; or running internal support groups.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

Rate this resource

Comments (0)