by Kate Quinn
Associate Director for Workforce & Transformation
Try mentioning the word “menopause” at work and it is likely to stun people into silence or cause an embarrassing giggle at a hormonal woman’s expense. The most many employers offer to their menopausal women in the workplace are fans – but is this enough?
Menopause is a normal life event for women and so it is not an illness or a medical condition. This often means that the symptoms of the menopause are too often under recognised, undervalued and not taken seriously.
The psychological symptoms associated with the menopause such as loss of self-confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety and depressive symptoms are the ones that often affect women the most.
Looking back, I probably started experiencing menopausal symptoms when I was around 45, but did not recognise them at the time. To be honest I thought I was going mad. I thought it was something that happened much later on, I am now 50.
So it was a bit of a revelation to find out the average age of achieving menopause - when your periods have stopped for 12 months - is 51.
For me, the hot flushes and sleepless sweaty nights came much later and actually once these started it at least started to make sense of the years of other symptoms that I hadn’t really thought of as menopausal.
I started noticing that I lost concentration easily and that the fog in my brain made it feel like I was sat in meetings and everyone was talking another language. I started to doubt my ability to do my job and I personally started to think I had something seriously wrong with me.
Then there were the journeys in to work with a deep feeling of anxiety and panic. Sobbing all the way in to work because of the complete sense of panic for no apparent reason and then dusting myself off and deep breathing to manage the feelings so that I could at least try and present myself as capable. I felt disconnected from everything and couldn’t work out why. Loss of energy, moodiness with my husband and children and feeling like an observer rather than a participant at social events. It feels like it will never end.
It also seems that a woman’s body cruelly starts to challenge her just at the point that her children are leaving home and so there is often a double whammy of realising that your body can no longer produce children at the same time as your children no longer need you. It is just as challenging psychologically as it is physically.
All of these types of symptoms have caused many successful and capable women to give up work either because they simply couldn’t cope any more or believed themselves to be “losing their mind”.
Many women feel afraid of showing signs of menopause in the workplace. We try and shrug it off as ‘just my age’ or make light at ‘having a hot do’, but in reality there can be a lot more going on for women.
I would like women to be able to feel confident in speaking to colleagues and managers about this transitional stage of their life and to seek support where possible. Workplaces can make "very small, reasonable adjustments" to help cope with symptoms. Suggestions include giving women fans for their desks, flexible working to cope with a lack of sleep, and offering a quiet space at work to tackle poor concentration.