Going through the menopause at work can be challenging - but there's no need to suffer in silence
According to a recent Government report co-authored by Professor Jo Brewis from the Government Equalities Office and highlighted in this article by Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic. They are experienced, motivated, and at the top of their career game.
However, for women undergoing the menopause at work, it can be an extremely difficult time in their lives and can greatly impact their work and wellbeing.
This article focuses on how to manage menopause at work, provides advice on how to deal with menopause brain fog and other debilitating symptoms, and outlines your rights at work.
How can menopause impact you at work?
Anyone can be affected by hormonal changes during their lives for several reasons, including pregnancy, fertility treatment, and menopause. These changes can bring about symptoms which can affect us and our colleagues at work.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is the point at which a woman's oestrogen levels decline and she stops having periods. As menopausal symptoms are typically experienced for several years, it's usually described as a transition, rather than a one-off event. The menopause can also affect people from transgender, non-binary, and intersex communities and its symptoms and impact can vary among different ethnic groups. The menopause typically happens between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age in the UK being 51, but for some women it can be earlier or later.
What are menopausal symptoms?
Most women will experience some symptoms around the menopause. They can manifest physiologically and psychologically and vary in duration and severity. Symptoms can be tricky to recognise and to manage, and for some women this can be frightening. In some cases, menopausal symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life, comfort, and work performance.
One of the most debilitating symptoms can be brain fog, an inability to think clearly, make decisions, and function well mentally - and this can be particularly difficult to manage at work.
Although not an exhaustive list, other menopausal symptoms can include:
loss of confidence
hot flushes felt in the face, neck, and chest
mood disturbances, anxiety and / or depression, and panic attacks
insomnia and sleep disturbance, which causes tiredness and irritability
muscle and joint stiffness, aches, and pains
irregular periods and / or light or heavy periods
What is the impact of this in the workplace?
Menopause is a natural part of ageing, but it's not always an easy transition - especially at work. According to research from the CIPD, three out of five working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work.
Many women feel blindsided by their symptoms - it can significantly impact their work and wellbeing and shatter their confidence. Without adequate support, some women may need to take short or long-term sickness leave, or, in the worst case scenario, leave the organisation completely.
How can you manage the menopause at work?
Going through the menopause at work can feel lonely and scary and, although it shouldn't, often embarrassing. Here's some practical advice on how to manage the menopause at work.
Seek medical advice
In the first instance, consider seeking advice from your GP or health practitioner, especially if you don't feel well enough to work, as well as accessing any support available internally. Your workplace may also be able to advise on any available treatments.
Speak to HR or a trusted colleague
Reach out to someone in your HR team. As well as providing a safe and supportive space to talk and helpful information, they can outline the support mechanisms available. This could include an explanation of your company's health, wellbeing, and sickness absence policies and an outline of the benefits on offer, such as private medical insurance or an Employee Assistance Programme.
Consider speaking to your line manager, if you feel comfortable
Try having an open and honest conversation with your line manager, if you can. They can work with you to review your workload if “menopause brain drain” is causing poor concentration, ensure the appropriate measures which support your working environment are in place, and implement any reasonable adjustments.
Prioritise your wellbeing
Take regular, or more frequent, breaks from your desk and screen and away from the bustle of an open plan space. Consider mindfulness activities, such as meditation or breathing exercises, or going for a walk at lunchtime. Remember to drink plenty of water.
Why not suggest a “walking meeting,” if this is helpful, or a lunchtime meet outside? Consider requesting the option to switch off your camera when in Teams or Zoom meetings if your menopausal symptoms are particularly difficult that day.
How to talk about menopause at work
Great employers will support women before, during, and after the menopause. They should normalise the menopause, foster a culture that allows for open discussion, and educate and inform their staff so that they feel comfortable talking about the menopause, know about the symptoms, and can support their colleagues without awkwardness or embarrassment.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you should inform your manager if an absence from work was due to the menopause. Your employer should also record these absences separately from other absences, as there may be times when it could be unfair or discriminatory to measure menopause-related absence as part of your overall sickness attendance record.
Ask for reasonable adjustments
If you are suffering with menopausal symptoms at work, even the smallest adjustments to your work space, pattern, and environment can make a huge difference to your wellbeing and productivity.
Speak to your HR and Facilities teams or line manager about what adjustments are available while working in the office and at home, and agree a plan that should be reviewed regularly.
Some examples of adjustments could include:
Temperature control, such as a desk fan or a desk away from a source of heat, and noise control, such as noise-reducing headphones
A cool, quiet, and private room to allow for time out to relieve menopausal symptoms away from a busy open plan office - this could simply be a spare meeting room with a "Please Do Not Disturb" sign displayed
A temporary change to your working pattern, such as a later start or earlier finish time to avoid rush hour or peak travel times; this can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing disturbed sleep
Your rights at work during menopause
If you are experiencing the menopause at work, there is employment law to protect you. Your employer has a legal duty to ensure that your working conditions don't worsen your symptoms and to protect you from menopause discrimination.
Although not a specified protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, if you are disadvantaged because of your menopause symptoms this could still be viewed as discrimination if it's related to a protected characteristic such as age, disability, gender reassignment, or sex.
In addition, The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides for safe working, which extends to working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Your employer should have steps, procedures, and support in place to help staff affected by the menopause. They should foster an age- and gender-inclusive workplace that ensures women and men of all ages are valued for their skills and talent.
Finally, ask your HR team for a copy of their Menopause Policy - and, if there isn't one in place, request one! It should clearly outline the support available to women experiencing menopausal symptoms and provide clear guidance for you, your colleagues, and line managers. It can also help women to feel empowered to ask for support and adjustments, without any embarrassment, and enable them to carry on with their role at work in a safe environment.
The menopause can cause a wide range of symptoms that affect women in different ways. This can be challenging to manage at work and can significantly affect performance, productivity, and confidence. Without the right support, many women are forced to leave their job or put their career on hold.
However, menopause shouldn't be a taboo and every woman should feel supported and able to have an open conversation about their experiences and what they need, to carry on thriving in their roles. Sometimes, even the simplest adjustments can make a world of difference - so please don't suffer in silence.
If your employer hasn't created a culture where menopause is openly discussed, doesn't provide adequate support or offer reasonable adjustments, or have the right policies in place, it may be time to find one that does. Our professional CV writing service can help with your job search - request a free CV review today to take your first step towards a new, safe, and inclusive workplace.