The UK Government recently appointed England’s first ever Menopause Employment Champion in a bid to create more supportive workplaces and address the one in four women who consider leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms, of which there are 42 symptoms. It seems a timely decision, given that women over 50 represent the fastest growing segment of the UK workforce, with a third of the working age population now over 50.
As a menopausal women approaching 52, I am that demographic.
Menopause is when periods stop due to lower hormone levels and typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. There is a phase leading up to menopause called perimenopause when hormone levels are starting to decline and fluctuate. Both menopause (when periods have been absent for 12 months) and perimenopause (hormone levels declining but periods still present) can cause symptoms like anxiety, low mood, mood swings, low self-esteem, brain fog and hot flushes which can start years before periods stop and carry on after the menopause. In some cases the impact of symptoms can be significant and life changing.
The approach of menopause can feel quite insidious. You may struggle with tasks; doubt your abilities (despite your years of experience); feel your emotional ‘bandwidth’ depleted; struggle with concentration, planning and memory; feel your ADHD is out of control; have a general sense that your body is failing you and consider that you may actually be suffering from ‘early onset dementia’. Physical symptoms may include hot flushes, when you suddenly feel boiling hot around your face, neck and chest; palpitations, joint pains and muscle aches, recurring UTIs and dry/itchy skin.
It may take a few months or years before you twig it could all be due to menopause.
I left my Managing Director role in the midst of peri-menopause whilst going through a divorce and struggling to care for my neurodivergent son. I may have accumulated 25+ years of skills and experience but I felt deplete, in constant fight and flight, redundant and a burden, certainly not an asset. Leaving was a relief.
The average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 but peri-menopausal symptoms can start long before, the slow eroding of self-worth and sanity. Some women (currently around 1%) will also go through early menopause (under the age of 45) as a result of family history, health conditions, treatments for cancer or surgery and other lifestyle factors such as excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.
The UK Government recently decided against including menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, the rationale offered was that the existing protection of sex, age and disability already afforded protection indirectly, so it simply cannot be ignored.
Even these small adjustments can have a significant impact on those experiencing symptoms feeling seen, validated and valued:
- Being flexible on uniform requirements – breathable fabrics and light clothing is more comfortable when experiencing hot flushes.
- Creating cooler spaces, providing fans – having ready access to a cooling space or device can be comforting in the midst of a hot flush.
- Normalising dialogue, taboo-busting training for managers to reduce stigma – helping to reduce stress and isolation.
- Moving desks next to the window to readily access fresh air – being able to open a window and feel a breeze can be invaluable.
- Ready supply of cool drinking water – to help with temperature regulation and hydration.
- Adjusting roles and responsibilities to manage stress and overwhelm.
At Strategic Wellbeing we offer a course on Understanding and managing menopause at work to look at all these issues and find a way through this challenging period. Find more details of the programme here.
Having an open supportive dialogue and building awareness can help those going through this phase of their life feel seen and valued. It is an important and timely conversation; one which employers need to be having to retain this valuable workforce.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline Cooper, Coach and Mentor