Menopause is the stage in life when menstruation ceases for 12 or more months and is often accompanied by challenging symptoms. Coping with these symptoms while balancing work can be difficult.
To feel empowered, supported, and capable of completing your job to the best of your ability, menopause-related challenges must be addressed.
This blog post is going to delve into the different challenges women face in the workplace when going through menopause, looking at how to manage symptoms while at work and providing tips on how to best offer support in the workplace.
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a person's reproductive years. It occurs when a person's ovaries cease to release eggs and their hormone levels decline significantly. It typically occurs in people between the ages of 45 and 55 but can happen earlier or later.
During menopause, the body experiences a decrease in oestrogen and progesterone levels, leading to various symptoms that can have a significant impact on daily life.
These symptoms can vary in severity and duration for each individual, but the most common physical and emotional symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Mood swings
- Irregular periods before they stop completely
- Memory or concentration problems
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle and joint aches
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes to libido
- Weight gain
Is menopause affecting your confidence at work?
Women can face lots of challenges in the workplace when experiencing menopause. For example, hot flushes in a warm office or workplace with limited opportunities for fresh, cool air can make it hard to focus and cause panic. You might can also feel embarrassed about experiencing a hot flush while at work, especially if you have no way of cooling down.
Brain fog and trouble concentrating are also common symptoms of menopause, both of which can greatly impact your productivity and be professionally debilitating.
Although it is a natural body process, menopause can be extremely difficult to deal with, and you should feel comfortable speaking about what you are going through while you are at work. You may feel as though you cannot talk about menopause and your experiences with it at work, as there is a stigma surrounding it. Menopause may be seen as a private concern that is left at the office front door, but that is far from the reality.
There is also a misconception that menopause only happens to older women — but that is not always the case. Women can go through menopause early for a variety of reasons including surgical procedures, autoimmune diseases and cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Eliminating stigmas and misunderstandings is crucial in providing a sense of comfort and support in the workplace throughout your menopause journey, no matter what challenges you may face.
Expert advice for coping with menopause symptoms at work
Our menopause specialist Dr Emma Sloan has spoken with lots of women going through menopause while trying to juggle work at the same time. Her experience has led her to see first-hand how menopause symptoms can impact their working life.
“I hear women talk about hot sweats in the middle of board meetings, paranoia that the whole team are judging them, feeling like their face is turning as red as a beetroot during important presentations,” she says.
“Other symptoms, like brain fog and difficulty finding words, can reduce women’s confidence and self-esteem, leading to a feeling of imposter syndrome [that promotes] vulnerability in the workplace.”
“Coupled with poor sleep, night sweats and all the physical changes that their bodies are going through, menopause can be a professionally debilitating process for women to go through.”
However, there are some strategies Dr Sloan recommends to help manage your menopausal symptoms at work.
1. Open communication
Speaking with your manager or colleagues about any additional needs can make a big difference. Communication is essential when it comes to making reasonable adjustments — employers won’t know you are struggling with menopause symptoms unless you tell them.
Dr Sloan suggests speaking to your Line manager or Wellness Team. She says, “Find a trusted colleague to confide in and seek support from various sources that may be available through work. Knowing that [you] are not alone is very powerful and feeling better supported goes a long way to help address some of the emotional aspects.”
2. Explore flexible working arrangements
Sometimes this may look like flexible working patterns so you can work with your body, rather than against it.
Dr Sloan explains that some of her patients have found talking to their line manager helpful. “Avoiding the underground at rush hour or working from home after a particularly bad night [has helped some of my patients] continue to meet their professional obligations at work.”
3. Ensure you look after yourself
When experiencing menopause symptoms, it’s important that you put yourself first so that you can manage your symptoms better. Expert in menopause care Dr Sloan advises that you should make self-care adaptations at work.
“Taking in spare changes of clothes, having a fan near [your] desk, staying hydrated and wearing breathable fabrics helps with some of the physical symptoms of perimenopause or menopause.”
While it might not always be possible, moving to a cooler part of the workplace can help when you experience hot flushes. Similarly, a desk fan can be a great tool as it can conveniently sit on your desk until it’s needed.
Hot flushes can also be triggered by specific things, like caffeine. Therefore, avoiding these while at work could drastically reduce your chances of getting a hot flush.
Dr Sloan also suggests regular breaks and quiet breakout rooms at work to go to, so you can do some deep breathing or meditation.
4. Increase your knowledge
Understanding what your body is going through and why can make a big difference in how you handle your symptoms.
Dr Sloan has seen first-hand how knowledge can transform your working life. “The more you understand and know about menopause, the more women find better ways to navigate it.”
She goes on to say, “Simple lifestyle changes can help, hormone replacement therapy can reduce symptoms and help with sleep. Attending menopause support workshops and learning from others and understanding that you are not on your own go a long way to helping people cope at work.”
Raising awareness and understanding among colleagues and employers
It's important to recognize that not all colleagues may have a thorough understanding of menopause, but by sharing information and educating others, we can work towards reducing stigma and correcting misconceptions.
Discussing your specific needs and explaining why they are necessary can help colleagues and managers understand your need for additional support.
If you are a manager
Being a line manager means taking the needs of employees and providing support when they need it. There are a variety of ways to do this effectively, like offering:
- Flexible working options such as remote working or changing working patterns
- Additional break allowances
- Extra time to prepare for meetings or anything that requires a high level of concentration
- Counselling for mental health support
Resources and support
Having appropriate resources and educational support can have a beneficial effect on women navigating menopause in the workplace, enhancing their self-esteem, motivation, and overall confidence.
Some useful pages with information on managing menopause in the workplace include:
- NHS Inform: Menopause and the workplace
- Faculty of Occupational Medicine: Guidance on menopause and the workplace
- National Institute on Aging: What is menopause?
- CIPD: Menopause
- NHS Employers: Menopause and the workplace
Guides and support services:
- Menopause: Guiding principles for employees and their managers
- Know Your Menopause
- Menopause Matters
- NHS Menopause Programme
Being able to access counselling services can help when you experience mood swings or changes to your mental health while going through menopause. There are local NHS talking therapies available and employers should offer employees access to any additional counselling services they may be entitled to through work schemes.
Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre
Going through menopause alone can be a challenge, but The McIndoe Centre is on hand to help. We provide supportive women’s health services to ensure menopause doesn’t damage your career and daily life.
Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre to discover how we prioritise women’s health.
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