It’s estimated that 70% of women who are at the ‘menopausal age’ work, therefore if you’re struggling to manage day-to-day business, you’re far from alone. Yet despite the high numbers of working women experiencing menopause, because of the nature of this age-associated stage of life, it’s often something women feel reluctant or embarrassed to talk about.
For some women, menopause symptoms can last for up to four years and many common symptoms can interfere with working life. The most common symptoms that may affect a woman’s workplace achievements during the perimenopause and menopause years include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory loss
- Hot flushes
- Joint and muscle pain
Three out of four women going through menopause say they experience hot flushes, which involves an intense feeling of heat spreading throughout the body, sometimes leading to sweating and redness. If you work in a stuffy office, these hot flushes can be exacerbated.
Because of hormonal changes, you may find that your concentration levels take a dip too and that your mood may fluctuate throughout the day. Anxiety, memory problems and irritability during menopause is common and when dealing with problematic customers and stressful situations, you may find yourself snapping more than usual. Some of these pressures are environmental – a result of high office temperatures, poor ventilation, synthetic uniform materials, inadequate bathroom facilities and poor access to drinking water. Others are just unfortunately a standard part of menopause.
Unwilling to admit to these symptoms, many women find themselves silently suffering in the workplace for fear of being stereotyped as ‘getting old’. They force themselves to hide sweating and redness, suppress mood changes, and generally make dealing with menopause harder than it has to be.
what should you do if you don’t want to go down this hiding route?
Managing your menopause in the workplace
While you may feel embarrassed talking to your employer about your condition, they have a duty of care to support you and make your working life as comfortable as possible. Don’t be afraid to discuss your symptoms and make requests based on what you feel able to manage. Taking on too much or dealing with problematic workloads can worsen symptoms and eventually lead to you needing to take time off, so it’s in your employer’s best interest to lighten your load before it’s too late.
Hopefully your employer will do the right thing and address any small changes that may make you more comfortable. Small changes you can request could include moving your desk closer to a toilet, a window or to the air-conditioning, the opportunity to wear clothing with more breathable fabric, flexible work hours, and autonomy to reschedule meetings or manage your own time.
Other things you can do on your own include:
Practicing a healthy lifestyle outside of work may also help improve your overall symptoms. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet packed full of vitamins and minerals may help alleviate symptoms of fatigue, while complex carbohydrates can fuel your body with stable, long-lasting periods of energy.
If you are not required to wear a strict uniform each day to work, consider how your outfits may affect your performance. Comfortable, breathable clothes are important in helping you handle hot flushes and layers are a must. Opt for fabrics that aren’t irritating on the skin and wear loose bottoms and cotton underwear so as not to trigger or further aggravate vaginal dryness.
Exercise will help clear your mind, allowing you to balance the emotional overload that menopause may sometimes bring. When your work requires you to sit through meetings or in front of the computer for long periods of time, take breaks when you can and walk or stretch to get your circulation going and your heart pumping.
Aim for better sleep
Menopause can make sleeping difficult, but there are a number of things you can do to better your chance of sleeping soundly. Eat an early and light dinner, stay away from caffeine, transform your bedroom into a zone of relaxation, listen to meditation music, and set yourself the same early bedtime every night.
What employers can do
There are a number of ways in which support and consideration can be given to women going through the menopause. It’s important to remember that menopause can be a long-term issue, and as an employer, it’s your job to ensure your workers are comfortable and happy. Without the right support, a woman going through menopause may feel inclined to take time off, which is not only unfortunate for her, but costly for your business.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, women going through menopause may need more flexible hours, reduced hours or more toilet breaks. They may need to be provided with a fan for temperature regulation or moved to an area with greater ventilation.
Above all, women going through menopause deserve sensitivity and internal support. This means greater awareness among staff and constant assessment. Particular strategies might include: fostering a culture in which employees feel comfortable disclosing health problems, allowing flexible working, reducing sources of work-related stress and working towards the stigma surrounding older employees. All management should be trained to be aware of how the menopause can affect working women and what adjustments may be necessary to support them. These are likely to be minimal for most women and only required on a temporary basis.
Information about the menopause should also be distributed to staff as part of wider occupational health strategies, to ensure that any staff members who may go through menopause while working at your company know that you operate an open, positive attitude towards the issue.
Additionally, if any risk assessments are undertaken in the workplace, the potential symptoms and needs of menopausal women should form part of this.
It’s important to remember that employees and employers must work together to better manage the effects of menopause in the workplace.