Understanding menopause at work is increasingly important to today’s career woman. Menopause is a natural process for most women and refers to the time when menstruation has ceased for 12 consecutive months. Most women start experiencing symptoms during perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause, when hormones levels change most significantly.
Symptoms like hot flashes, nausea, dizziness, night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood changes, poor concentration, fatigue, irritability, and anxiety may last for several years. Some women have mild symptoms while others can have symptoms severe enough to disrupt their lifestyles and wellbeing. If a woman is still working her work may be affected.
According to Statistics Canada, “the percentage of women employed in 2009 was 58.3%, representing 8,076,000 women”. Also, around midlife women may have chronic health conditions and have a greater share of responsibility for child-rearing, some have adult children still living at home, and elderly relatives and/or partners.
The British Occupational Health Research Foundation commissioned researchers at the University of Nottingham, led by Professor Amanda Griffiths, to explore women’s experience of working through menopause.
In this study almost fifty percent of the women found it somewhat difficult to cope with work during the menopause change. Less than fifty percent didn’t think it difficult at all, and five percent thought it was extremely difficult.
According to this study “some women felt their job performance had been negatively affected by menopause. And some women said they worked extremely hard to overcome their perceived shortcomings. Nearly a fifth of women thought that the menopause had a negative impact on their managers and colleague’s perceptions of their competence at work, and felt anxious…”
“This study has made it clear that the menopause presents an occupational health issue for some women”.
Some jobs make it more difficult than others. Women may be more self-conscious and anxious about having a hot flash or sweats while delivering a presentation. Women supervising younger staff, especially male, may feel less understood. Office layouts, workplace rules, and uniforms can make working conditions very difficult for women during peri and menopause.
It is important for women in the workforce to find understanding, sympathetic, and appropriate support from their managers and colleagues. But this can only happen when women stop treating menopause like a taboo and start explaining what it really means to them. Women have to be educators to change the workplace perception of menopause. Workplace culture has to change from joking and minimizing menopause and its symptoms to an occupational health issue that deserves as much attention as pregnancy, for example.
Women interviewed by Professor Amanda Griffiths suggested that “employers can help by communicating to their workforce that health-related problems such as menopause are normal”, and that managers should be more aware of menopause as a possible occupational health issue for women.
Some women developed coping strategies and suggestions such as:
- Work from home or flexibility of working hours. If they had a particularly bad night of sleep, due to night sweats, insomnia, or anxiety, they could take a nap in the afternoon and finish their assigned work in the evening.
- Teleconferences work better than formal meetings and high-visibility work because hot flashes and sweats made women self-conscious and embarrassed in public.
- Proper temperature and ventilation. Many women enjoy opening a window or turning on a desk fan to relieve hot flashes.
- Carry a notepad around the office to write things down that may otherwise be forgotten due to poor memory and concentration.
- Better access to sources of support.
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