It’s no secret that menopause can affect women in the workplace – which we’ll delve into into a second – but this also lends itself to addressing PMS and related symptoms. They can also have a big impact on a woman’s career and equally needs to be a topic of discussion.
Menopause and PMS can often strike at an important point in a woman’s career during this huge hormonal upheaval. This can be experienced during perimenopause and menopause – and PMS even earlier – and affect how women handle work, relationships with colleagues, and general workplace stress arising from deadlines and office politics. To add to this, women are usually wearing so many hats and dealing with everyday life challenges – juggling the kids, responsibilities of extended family or a partner, and social stresses.
It’s no wonder that things can go a bit haywire, and symptoms often go unrecognised or the connection to menopause is made. Women are working later in life more than ever before, and many are going through menopause during their working lives. Both menopause and PMS remain overlooked issues in organisations, but with some practical changes and emotional support in place, women can continue enjoying a fulfilling career.
So how do we get support in the workplace? And how do women approach the subject with the manager and get the adjustments implemented? Mentioning the term ‘menopause’ or ‘period pains’ has always been associated with shame and embarrassment. However, we all should remember that this is a natural biological process that all women and men (yes, they have their challenges) go through, so there should be no stigma attached to any of it.
The symptoms of both can be so intrusive that they can lead to a real lack of confidence and anxiety. Women can often become less engaged at work and leave feeling dissatisfied with their job performance. This leads to lower levels of commitment to projects due to the fear of lack of concentration, lack of energy, and the feeling of letting colleagues down. For many women, brain fog and the cognitive changes seem to have the biggest impact on the home and working environment.
Concentration, memory problems, forgetting people’s names, searching for words, and inability to think are classic symptoms of perimenopause and menopause due to lower oestrogen and testosterone. Only half of women disclose the real reasons for absence to their line managers when taking time off work to deal with their symptoms because they feel embarrassed asking for help. Furthermore, one in 10 women considered giving up work due to their menopausal symptoms or pursuing alternatives like:
- reducing their hours
- changing roles
- quitting work altogether
- not putting themselves forward for promotion
- calling in sick more often
It’s no surprise that so many women find work difficult due to symptoms of menopause. In fact, 70-80% felt their menopausal symptoms have a negative impact on their working life due to:
- lack of concentration
- memory loss
- low/reduced confidence
- sleep deprivation
- hot flashes
In recent years, more organisations are finally paying attention and putting in place a menopause policy to ensure the health and safety of all employees. Employers are now realising that if menopause is handled correctly and sensitively, it helps to reduce absenteeism and retain professionally experienced women in the workplace. Below, we’ll explore practical solutions to help both employers and employees enjoy a happier and more productive working environment.
For the Employer
Employers should be supporting menopausal women as part of a holistic approach to employee health and well-being. Remember: every woman’s menopause is different. Some women have mild symptoms, others endure symptoms for several years. Listen carefully to each woman and be prepared to tailor any support to your policy. Menopause is not an illness and does not need managing, but having simple policies and strategies in place will go a long way. Below are some examples.
- Menopause awareness training can help employees – female and male – understand the basics of the menopause issues that can arise and what they can do to help.
- If you have an internal website, create a women’s wellness page or menopause page with information on the cause, symptoms, treatments, coping strategies, and links to further medical advice.
- Give employees time and space to meet with others to share experiences and swap suggestions for ways of coping.
- Provide the flexibility to move desks and review workplace temperature and ventilation to see how they might be adapted, making sure workstations are near an opening window or away from a heat source.
- Consider flexible working hours or shift changes.
- Later start times might be helpful.
- Provide a desktop fan and access to cold drinks (i.e. water stations).
- Offer access to washrooms/changing rooms where a change of clothing can be kept.
- Offer access to a quiet space.
- Offer the flexibility to take walks.
For the Employees
Of course, it’s a personal choice to open up to colleagues about your symptoms. This can be a crucial first step in securing the support you need. By starting the conversation, you may also be helping other women who are experiencing the same challenges. There is a lot of work to be done in the workplace and having that additional support from the employer is great, combine that with simple strategies you can put in place to help you get through the day will also be of great benefit. Below are some examples.
- Ask your manager/HR for a meeting – this is your chance to outline your symptoms and request changes to your daily work.
- Have a few concrete examples of how your symptoms might be affecting your work and what might be exacerbating the symptoms, such as working in a stuffy office.
- Avoid early morning meetings if you are suffering from insomnia.
- Don’t have back-to-back meetings – give yourself some time to breathe and regain your thoughts.
- Have a work diary on your phone to set reminders for important things.
- Prepare some note cards in advance for meetings.
- Take those lunch breaks and use them for eating and relaxing only.
- Use post-it notes to keep you on track.
- Tackle big projects in the mornings if you feel this is when your energy/concentration is at its highest.
- Set time aside for 15-minute relaxation exercises that improve concentration and reduces stress.
- Ask yourself if there are any lifestyle changes that can help with stress and symptoms.
- Choose the right exercise.
- Practise meditation and breathing exercises.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid caffeine before an important meeting.
Additionally, here are a few quick tips to make your day a happier one.
- Wear breathable clothing or layers.
- Set notification alarms.
- Prioritise daily tasks in order.
- Set break times in your calendar.
- Keep a desk fan handy.
- Find a quiet space to eat and relax during break times.
- Go for a walk.
- Ensure your desk is near a window or ventilation.
- Reduce your caffeine intake, especially right before meetings.
- Avoid spicy food if you’re suffering from hot flashes.
- Keep a bottle of cold water at hand.
It is important to be aware that the changes and challenges faced by women are natural and temporary stages in their lives – and not all women experience significant symptoms. Menopause and PMS have been regarded as taboo subjects. This is changing as employers gradually acknowledge the potential impact on women and become aware of the simple steps they can take to be supportive.