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Menopause, at work

Menopause, at work

Yep, another article on menopause … but it’s just so hot-flushing relevant for us ladies of a certain age. It’s one of those topics which deserves more conversation than it gets which is strange when you think about it, given this is a normal stage of life half the population will experience.

So let’s get chatting. Before we start though, let’s take a moment to ponder the reasons why talking menopause is taboo, especially in the workplace. I cant help but wonder if it’s because as women, our social currency is (unfortunately) still wrapped up in the myth that only the youthful can be vibrantly engaged with life and work. Is mentioning menopause the equivalent of shouting ‘I’m older – please disregard me’?

Maybe it’s because sometimes it feels like you’re shouting into the void. From my experience, it can feel sometimes like those with no lived experience have little interest in the complex relationship between menopause hormones, brains, behaviours and well-being. I’m not sure I did before menopause became real for me. I can attest firsthand now though, this menopause journey is bloody hard at times!

As women, we’re used to change…

Women are the chameleons of the world with bodies designed for change. We weather the changes that occur in puberty, then for some, more enormous changes with pregnancy and childbirth. And of course, our bodies morph yet again, during the peri to post-menopause phases of life. And through all these changes, we participate in work and study.

Given our significant workforce participation and how menopause symptoms can vary widely and last for years, it’s a given that a large percentage of us will live out the menopause experience ‘at work’.

Fifty percent of women say menopause makes work more difficult and one recent study found that one in four women will suffer extreme and debilitating symptoms. The most common symptoms being fatigue, hot flushes, anxiety/worry, insomnia, difficulty focusing and memory recall. Other studies suggest up to 10% of women actually leave the workforce due because of their symptoms – what a blow for diversity, inclusivity, workplace culture and midlife careers!

So now we know that menopause places additional physical and mental strains on women – what can we do about it? Some progressive employers are making menopause a workplace issue and inching towards menopause friendly policies and workspaces. With some frank discussion on the subject, could we see some much needed education and understanding in the workplace? Start waving that hot-flush flag at work ladies, let’s be the change here.

What is a menopause-friendly workplace?

At its simplest, menopause friendly workplaces have an inclusive culture with open channels of conversation. The best kinds understand the wide myriad of physical and mental changes women will experience; and have policies in place to reflect this.

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Some of the simple things workplaces can do to help include:

  • easy access to fresh, cold water
  • fans or cool rooms to work from
  • access to quiet rooms with good ventilation
  • flexible working hours to compensate for fatigue and insomnia

Cynical me wonders whether making allowances for menopause at work will provide just another reason not to value older women in the workplace. Another convenient reason to keep midlife women in the too-hard basket.

Optimist me hopes with some discussion and workplace education, midlife careers might not grind to a halt or stall because of menopause. Hell, let’s go all out and say it might even be an opportunity for some midlife momentum.

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