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Managing Menopause At Work

Written by: Shona Hirons, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

The 18th of October is World Menopause Day and this is a topic very close to my heart. The impact menopause had on my career. When I was age 44, I went into early menopause when I had a hysterectomy as a result of being diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Woman riding a white Harley Davidson motorcycle at night time.

Two and a half years earlier, I had a very serious accident and immediately my periods stopped completely. I did ask my GP about this and he thought the extreme stress and trauma had caused my periods to stop. Menopause was ruled out, because he said I was too young. I was not offered any tests to establish this at the time.


When I returned to work after my accident, I actually thought I had dementia at times. I would be half way through a conversation with a client and completely forget what I was talking about. I had to keep asking people to repeat what they told me only a few minutes earlier. Several times, I forgot my way to work and had to pull over to get my bearings. On one occasion, I forgot my address when I was picking up a prescription from the pharmacy.


After two years of my periods stopping, they started again with a vengeance. This time, they were like nothing I had experienced before. I daren’t wear white, for fear of flooding. I felt dirty and was taking several showers a day. I was permanently hot and had sweat patches under my arms. I started being late for meetings, because I’d have to rush outside to wait out a hot flush. My sleep was affected, because I was always so hot during the night, and this made me sluggish and irritable during the day.


I felt really stupid and my female Line Manager would keep asking me “When are we going to get the old Shona back?” I didn’t have the answers, so she put me on a Performance Improvement Plan and it became clear that nothing I did was going to be good enough.


I left when I was told I was too much of a risk for the business and had no option to leave, or be forced out.


When I discovered that my symptoms were menopause related I dedicated most of my time to researching this area.


I discovered that so many women dread menopause and there is still so much stigma and discrimination around it, especially in the workplace.


Did you know the average age for a female CEO in the UK is age 55, whereas the average age for menopause is 51? It seems that just when a woman feels ready to step up the ladder, her body betrays her.


It doesn’t have to be like this. It is possible to have a joyful menopause. However, this takes understanding and support. There are many things that women can do to make their symptoms bearable, but with women over the age of 50 being the fastest growing segment of the workforce, action needs to be taken now.


All Managers should receive training to ensure that anyone experiencing menopause symptoms get the same support and understanding as if they had any other health issue.


Advice for Managers


The chances are you either employ or manage at least one woman.


However, how confident do you think a member of your team would feel about talking to you about the menopause?


Unfortunately, a staggering 90% of women say their workplaces offer no help or support to those going through menopause. Symptoms can typically last for four years, and this lack of support and understanding can lead to performance issues, poor mental health and too many women are quitting their careers as a result.



Many women with menopause symptoms suffer in silence at work, but no woman should ever have to press pause on her career due to menopause. I know I did. I felt so unsupported when I was going through this natural transition in my life. If I didn’t leave, I would have been put through a disciplinary hearing, which made me feel even more stressed and incompetent. I have spoken to many other women who did the same.


Often, it takes just a few simple changes to the working environment to make a difference. Even just making the conversation about making menopause normal can reduce the impact of some symptoms and enable women to continue performing well in their roles.


6 Things that every Employer needs to know about menopause


1. What is menopause?


Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life, where estrogen levels decline and she stops having periods. Symptoms can last for several years and can vary for each woman. https://www.bodyform.co.uk/discover/pre-menopause/what-is-menopause/?gclid=CjwKCAjw-rOaBhA9EiwAUkLV4iOVxUGwBmOPMCOljCo5D4c7-hFbwEF6ewu1pJurk0vnHc8ReoSRaRoCoioQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds


2. When does menopause happen?


The menopause typically happens between ages 45 and 55, with the average age being 51. The ‘perimenopause’ is the phase leading up to the menopause, when a woman’s hormone balance starts to change. This can happen as early as their 20s, or as late as their 40s.


3. What are the symptoms?


There are a wide range of symptoms, which can vary from woman to woman. Symptoms can fluctuate and be felt at varying degrees. Any of the symptoms can be a challenge for women as they go about their daily lives, including at work. Use my menopause questionnaire to track your symptoms.


4. What are some of the symptoms?


Some of the most typical symptoms include:

  • Psychological issues, such as anxiety and/or depression and mood swings.

  • Brain fog, panic attacks, loss of confidence and reduced concentration.

  • Hot flushes

  • Sleep disturbance that leads to exhaustion and irritability

  • Night sweats

  • Irregular periods and/or periods can become heavier or lighter

  • Muscle and joint stiffness, aches and pains

  • Recurrent urinary tract infections

  • Headaches/migraines

  • Weight gain, particularly around the middle

  • Skin changes – dryness, acne and itchiness

  • Reduced libido

5. What is the Managers role?


It is essential to provide support and have an understanding of how menopause can affect women.


Effective management of team members with menopausal symptoms that are impacting on their work will help them to improve the team’s morale, retain valuable skills and talent, plus reduce sickness absence.


The first point of contact should be with their Line Manager or dedicated Menopause First Aider.


Line Managers are responsible for implementing the people management policies and procedures that can help someone experiencing menopause symptoms to feel supported and to be effective in their role.


Line Managers need to build a level of trust, so that employees affected by the menopause feel able to discuss it with them, without judgement or implications. They should support reasonable adjustments they need to work.


If someone tells you about their menopausal symptoms, it should be treated as confidential.


Line Managers should ask open questions, such as “How are you doing at the moment?”, or “I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving late recently, and I wondered if you are OK?” It’s up to the individual to disclose any particular symptoms they may be experiencing.


There should be regular 121s for an opportunity to start the conversation, which should always be in private and the employee feels at ease. Currently, recent research by Unleash shows that 7% of women talk to their employer about menopause. https://www.unleash.ai/wellbeing/how-can-employers-do-better-around-menopause/


Here are a few tips that may assist further:

  • Avoid interruptions – switch off your phone and talk in private

  • Ask simple, open, non-judgemental questions

  • Approach conversations with empathy, but don’t be embarrassed

  • Maintain good eye contact

  • Listen actively and carefully

  • Encourage the employee to talk

  • Show empathy and understanding

  • Focus on the person, not the problem

  • Avoid making assumptions or being prescriptive

6. Risk Assessments


As many women in the perimenopause stage will suffer with hot sweats, consider whether the temperature and ventilation in the workplace is suitable.


In addition, be flexible when it comes to the materials used in any uniform or corporate clothing. In warmer months, women should wear cotton or linen fabrics, which allow the skin to breathe. Whereas synthetic materials, such as polyester, acrylic and nylon tend to exaggerate sweating. Clothes that are too tight can make women feel hot and unbearable. Wide leg trousers and floaty dresses are much more comfortable.


In the cooler months, women should opt for thinner layers, such as teaming a blouse with a cardigan, rather than a bulky woollen jumper.


Ensure that women have access to toilet facilities and cold water. Be discreet and do not time these breaks.


In the UK employers have a legal duty under The Equality Act 2010 for the health and safety of their employees. Menopause can give rise to a Section 6 Equality Act disability claim providing the symptoms have a long-term and substantial adverse effect on normal day-to day activities. The specific needs of menopausal women should be considered, so employers should ensure the working environment will not make their symptoms worse.


How do I feel now?


Now that I understand menopause in more detail and I’m talking about it, I’m definitely having a joyful menopause. I take HRT, which reversed my symptoms within days. I have adjusted my diet to include more wholegrains and protein, but I have not been on a diet. I have swapped out my cardio workouts for strength and HIIT training. This has improved my tone and protected my muscles and bones. I take daily doses of Vitamin D and a liquid collagen shot to replace the lost collagen that happens when you hit menopause.


I have become a role model for other women by making it a positive change in their lives, rather than something to dread and ‘put up with’.


If HRT isn’t for you, there are many alternatives, so do your research, or feel free to reach out to me for support.


I’m loving life and still rocking it. At 48 years old I now feel younger and fitter than I did 10 years ago.


Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Shona Hirons, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Shona Hirons is an award-winning global Resilience and Burnout Coach. A breakdown from work-related stress, which led to a life-changing accident, requiring major facial reconstructive surgery and brain damage, gave her a big wake-up call. During her recovery, she went on a journey of self-discovery to rebuild her resilience, consider her values and achieve all the things she was told she couldn't do. Shona has developed strategies to boost her resilience, and now helps others to do the same. She is the CEO of Mindset in Motion, and a leader in corporate wellbeing, working with corporate clients in over 195 countries. Her mission: To improve the well-being of people and businesses throughout the world.

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