Understanding menopause and how it impacts the workplace

Menopause is defined as a moment in time when a person’s reproductory ability comes to an end. It’s signified by a person’s final period. The problem is that symptoms can start years beforehand and continue for years after that moment in time. Individuals will experience different symptoms at different times, which makes it very difficult to pinpoint exactly when menopause occurs.

There’s also the assumption that it only affects mature people, but this is not the case. Data indicates that menopause can be brought on early by medical interventions. For example: having major surgery such as a hysterectomy or having to undergo chemotherapy for cancer treatments. Also impacted are trans men who have had transgender surgery. As their female overs are still intact, they can still be impacted by hormonal changes and feel the symptoms of menopause.

As you can see from the examples above, menopause can affect many people and symptoms can last for ten years or more. This means that it impacts a sizeable portion of the workforce over time. Rather than shying away from the topic of menopause because it seems too personal, companies should recognise that having a policy in place to support employees will create a better working environment and therefore be better for business.

Understanding menopause – what are the symptoms?

It’s important to note that the list of symptoms is not finite and each individual’s experience will be different. The symptoms are not only physical, they also affect people on a psychological level. In the workplace especially, people may feel embarrassment because they can’t control when symptoms occur. For example: they may be in the middle of a meeting or giving a presentation when a hot flush starts. It’s not something they can easily ignore or hide as their complexion will likely pink and they’ll feel very uncomfortable.

While hot flushes are one of the more well-known symptoms. Others include: fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, headaches, dizziness, weight gain, itchy skin, mood swings, incontinence, hair loss, insomnia, irritability, etc. Brain fog is one symptom in particular that can really impact work. It’s almost as though your brain is letting you down because you can’t remember the simplest of things. A telephone number, or the password for your computer – things you usually use every single day. You can imagine that having to deal with even one of these symptoms at work could be challenging. It’s no wonder then that so many people leave the workforce because they find it unbearable.

Menopause and work

The challenge is that the relationship between menopause symptoms and work is a two way street. The symptoms can impact a person’s ability to function properly at work. Additionally, work stresses can compound the effects of the symptoms.

In our youth, many of us would spend the week recovering from hectic social weekends, having been up all night partying. It’s quite a different thing when you’re older having to spend your weekend recovering from your week because all week at work you’ve had to pretend that everything is ok. You’ve had to turn up, meet deadlines, oversee teams, lead meetings, sort out problems and manage team members, despite having no sleep, feeling as though your brain is only half functioning and all the while feeing physically uncomfortable.

This is where there’s an opportunity for companies to really step up. Companies that have a culture of supporting employees and enabling them to talk about personal challenges such as menopause, can help to remove and reduce some of the stress of the situation. Putting physical plans in place such as access to bathrooms, aircon etc. are important. But more than that, employees experiencing menopause need to know they don’t need to hide and pretend that everything is ok for fear of losing their job. They need to know they’re valued as employees. Having a policy in place and a culture of open discussion can really facilitate this.

If you’re wondering what the next steps are, in the third and final article on menopause in the workplace, we will discuss what a menopause policy looks like, and how to go about creating a better workplace culture. Stay tuned.

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