If a colleague started talking to you about menopause, how would it make you feel? For many people, it’s probably going to result in a mixture of embarrassment and discomfort.
But why is this? Unfortunately, it’s a topic which continues to be seen as a private matter, or only as a ‘women’s issue’, and certainly not something to openly talk about in the workplace. And that’s despite 94% of women having experienced symptoms of menopause at work.
Going through menopause can affect women in different ways – with some even sailing through barely experiencing any symptoms at all. But for others, symptoms can range from the physical, such as hot flushes and poor sleep, to the psychological, such as anxiety, low mood, lack of confidence and poor concentration.
Experiencing one, or all, of these symptoms can have a significant impact on personal lives, but also working lives too, particularly, given the stresses and strains of a busy workplace.
I started going through menopause about seven years ago. However, it took a little while for me to realise it was causing an issue at work. I have always been comfortable and confident in my abilities, but menopause changed all that. I started thinking I was useless and lost faith in my ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks, never mind my actual job role.
This led me to start feeling anxious around people, including my team, as I believed they thought I was a liability and no one wanted me around. I began to slowly withdraw, stopped joining in with team activities and generally acted as if I was a completely different person to the warm, friendly and sociable team member that everyone knew.
It got so bad for me that I couldn’t even hold a proper conversation or remember what I had been doing without having a panic attack or wanting to hide.
I am lucky in a way, as by the time I was aware this was happening to me, I had connected with several menopause groups online and face-to-face. I also spoke to my line manager and discussed how I had been feeling. She was empathic and agreed that I could work flexible hours and from home as much as I needed. This was perfect, as I didn’t know how I’d be feeling from one day to the next, and it helped me manage not only my workload but also my paranoia.
This was a great short-term fix, as I felt a lot more comfortable in my own space – but it did mean I started to become even more detached from my team. This obviously couldn’t continue, so I decided to see a private menopause specialist who provided the support, guidance and treatment to enable me to return to my full of life, normal self again.
Going through this experience hasn’t been easy for me. But I am not alone. Research suggests that there are around 4.4. million women aged 50-64 in work, the vast majority of whom will start menopause during their working lives. It’s not uncommon for many of these women to suffer in silence, as their employers don’t have the correct policies and procedures in the place to support them.
Over the past year, British MPs have been pushing particularly hard for clear workplace policies to protect women going through menopause. It’s great to hear more is being done to provide vital support, but there’s still a long way to go to make it part of standard working life culture.
Even just a few adjustments at work could make a huge difference – here are a few to consider:
- Power of community: Having an exclusive community to support anyone impacted by menopause can be hugely beneficial. This can include women, but also others whose partners are currently going through, or about to go through, menopause. It’s a great place to share experiences, concerns, ask questions and be there for each other.
- Open and inclusive culture: It’s important that women going through menopause feel properly supported and included in their working environments. Creating a place where people can bring their whole self to work encourages the right culture that nurtures openness and being treated respectfully.
- One for all: Develop resources, tools and benefits which aim to help everyone understand the effects of menopause and what you can do to support yourself and others. We’ve also developed a new policy to ensure that women and managers are equipped with the right guidance to fairly support colleagues who are suffering from menopausal symptoms.
Kathy England, Menopause Network Lead, – Experian