With more and more women working years beyond menopause, it’s important for them to understand how their employer can support them in the workplace. Deborah Garlick, Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace explains more.
Menopausal women are actually the fastest-growing workplace demographic. As more of us are working until later in life, it follows that many women will go through menopause while they’re still in employment. Take into account that the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, they could possibly continue working for another 15 or even 20 years post menopause.
Menopause is a transition all women will experience. It’s impossible to predict exactly how it will affect you, as it really is different for everyone. But for many women, the years leading up to menopause – known as perimenopause – can bring about some symptoms. These can be physical, such as hot flushes, night sweats, irregular periods, or psychological, such as anxiety, insomnia and problems with memory recall. Interestingly, it’s the psychological symptoms which often have the most impact and often happen first. Many women are prepared for the hot flushes, but not the more emotional side.
Not everyone will experience every symptom, and some don’t experience any at all. But three in four do, and one in four experience serious symptoms. It stands to reason that these don’t clock in and out at the start and end of the working day, so managing menopause in the workplace is a real issue.
Support in the workplace
Thankfully, more and more employers are waking up to the fact that supporting menopause in the workplace is the right thing to do. Here’s my advice on what to do if you need support:
Find out what your employer has in place. This could be a menopause policy or guidance, intranet forum, menopause champions – more places are introducing the topic in a wide range of ways. If there’s nothing, talk to your line manager, HR or your union rep if your organisation has one.
Visit your GP. Yes, this isn’t directly workplace related, but taking control of your menopause symptoms is up to you. Your workplace won’t be able to give you medical advice but your GP can talk to you about how to manage any symptoms, which in turn will help you while you’re at work.
Talk to your line manager. Hopefully your organisation has a culture of openness where no subject is taboo. But if you feel uncomfortable with your own manager, find someone you do feel comfortable with. All conversations must be treated confidentially and sensitively.
Do your homework. Before you have a conversation, you need to be prepared. Note down any symptoms you think are affecting you at work and how. Come up with your own ideas of how these can be realistically managed, depending on the type of work you do. Would a desk fan help to keep you cool? Could an extra uniform be useful? If you’re struggling to sleep, would they consider a temporary change in working hours? Most employers will consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ as it’s in their interests for you to be at your best at work.
Arrange a follow up. This is always a good idea, to make sure any adjustments are working as they should be. Menopause symptoms can vary over time, so you might not need to continue with one adjustment but may need to ask for another.
Ask what other support is available. Your manager may be able to refer you to Occupational Health or HR for further information and support. Some organisations run an Employee Assistance Programme, which can include counselling and other therapies, so you could ask about this, too.
Understand your legal rights. Hopefully your employer will be willing to offer you the support you need – it’s often straightforward, simple and short term. But menopause is covered by the Equality Act 2010, under the categories of sex, disability and age discrimination. It’s worth knowing your legal rights so, worst case scenario, you know where to turn.
Many women have spent years working and building their career. We know that one in four women consider leaving work due to menopausal symptoms, and one in ten actually do leave. Nobody should feel they have to end their career when there are practical ways for employers to help.
Deborah Garlick is the Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace. She is passionate about helping thousands of people live better lives by raising awareness and understanding of the menopause, changing perceptions and getting everyone talking about it.