Does this sound familiar: In your 40s you have found yourself struggling with anxiety, lack of concentration, lack of sleep, feeling tired or lethargic, feeling low, irritability, increased headaches or migraines, joint pain, loss of libido, urinary or vaginal symptoms or changes in your periods. Yes, yes and yes? Now is the time to consider stress and the perimenopause. And it’s likely to be affecting you at work.
Perimenopause is the time in a woman’s life when the hormone levels begin to fluctuate. Symptoms can occur often before our periods start to change. The difficulty with peri menopause is that you might not realise that you are in it if your symptoms are psychological; anxiety, loss of confidence and problems concentrating.
Blame Hormones, Not Your Day Job
Joining the dots between stress and the perimenopause is important but the issue of how to manage menopause at work is something that both women and employers shy away from. How you navigate your menopause, particularly in the workplace, will probably depend upon the culture of your organisation and how you have decided to manage your symptoms (if you have indeed recognised that they are menopause symptoms). Unfortunately there is no education or information programme for women, so we are very much left to our own devices and at the mercy of the knowledge of our doctors, the internet or our friends.
In your 40s you have found yourself struggling with anxiety, lack of concentration, lack of sleep, feeling tired or lethargic? It could be perimenopause – and it’s likely to be affecting you at work.
Many of the women that I work with are reluctant to talk about their symptoms in the workplace. Some fear being considered less able or productive, while others tell me that they have a male manager who they don’t feel able to approach. Other women prefer to keep their health concerns completely private and choose to not share them in the workplace, no matter how sympathetic the environment might be.
Thankfully there has been a bit of progress in the last few years with a Government report into menopause and its effects on women in the workplace, and the release of The Guidance on Menopause and The Workplace from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.
The guidelines provide some very helpful information and advice for both employers and women, including considering flexible working and encouraging discussion. I would go further. Employers need to provide a supportive pathway for women and make everyone in the organisation aware that it exists. There should be no feelings of guilt around stress and the perimenopause.
Women Leading by Example
I have heard some shocking stories of what happens when workplaces are not supportive. One woman told me recently about a male colleague who ‘recoiled’ at his desk when she apologised for having a hot flush, and told her ‘ugh, too much information’. She later confronted him about his behaviour, pointing out the embarrassment and upset he had caused her. To his credit, he apologised and admitted that he now had an insight into what was happening to his mother.
The issue of how to manage menopause at work is something that both women and employers shy away from.
It is also important for senior women within organisations to take the lead where they feel able to. A woman I worked with recently told me how she had stood up in a Board meeting that she was leading and suddenly went blank; she simply couldn’t remember what she was going to open with. Rather than make an excuse she simply said “sorry, menopause moment”, gathered her thoughts and moved on.
I have seen similar leadership within the police force. During a series of training events that I have been involved with, one officer who couldn’t attend instead made a video to be shown. During the filming, she experienced a hot flush, but rather than stop, she carried on recording, sharing the experience with the rest of her force. The response from colleagues to her openness was overwhelmingly positive.
When women are open about these experiences – from forgetfulness to a hot flush – they normalise them. They also move things forward for all the women in their organisations. Knowledge is most definitely power and menopause support in the workplace is a win win situation for both women and employers.