By Christine Kitchens-Frost, HWC
According to research from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), working women going through menopause are struggling and would benefit from more support. A CIPD poll found that 59 percent of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who were experiencing menopause symptoms said it was having a negative impact on them at work and nearly a third took sick leave. Yet, of those who took sick leave, only a quarter told their manager the real reason for their absence.
Menopause is rarely a topic of discussion at work, as well as outside of it, because it is largely considered taboo. Yet half of the world’s population will experience this normal biological transition brought about when ovulation stops, and a woman can no longer reproduce. Research shows that about 80 percent of women experience symptoms when going through menopause, with one in four experiencing severe symptoms.
Menopause occurs at an average age of 51, but perimenopause, the stage leading up to menopause when women start to experience initial symptoms, can begin in women as young as late thirties. Symptoms such as hot flashes, “brain fog,” anxiety, depression, and sleep issues are not just minor inconveniences. In fact, they can impact all areas of daily living and cascade into bigger problems if ignored.
Because of the social stigma around female reproductive health, women have a tendency not to disclose symptoms even to people they trust due to embarrassment. In fact, the lack of conversations around menopause translates into many women who are often unaware of what to expect. This was demonstrated in a global study recently released in which 44 percent of women surveyed said they were unaware of perimenopause and 46 percent said they did not expect perimenopause to start when it did.
The lack of communication around menopause is unfortunate. Experts say that openly talking about menopause can alleviate stress for those going through it.
What can we do to better support employees going through menopause?
Start the conversation.
- Educate those close to you with basic facts from trusted sources to encourage an open conversation connected to concerns. Know the symptoms!
- Shift our thinking, and begin considering menopause as mainstream and as important as any other natural stage of life.
- Accept that menopause is not just a female issue, it’s a societal matter.
- Cultivate a culture in your community where women feel comfortable about discussing symptoms and their impact on their lives.
Take the conversation into the workplace.
Considering the growing number of older women in the workplace and the fact that some symptoms of menopause can last 7.5 years, it makes sense for organizations to address the impact of menopause on the workforce. Companies can start by providing opportunities for women to learn what to expect during perimenopause and menopause. Additionally, managers can be trained on the way menopause can impact work performance and how to have sensitive conversations with workers, so they receive the support they need. Some companies have gone so far as to have developed policies related to menopause that allow for adapted schedules, relaxed uniform restrictions, and extended sick time.
If you suspect that a friend or coworker is struggling with menopause, find a way to gently broach the subject without assuming anything or asking embarrassing questions. Maybe by talking about your own experience or about what someone else went through and how they got relief, the person will feel like opening up. They might just smile and nod uncomfortably, but there is no harm done.
Whatever you do, don’t stay silent! If you are a woman going through menopause, try to normalize your challenges so that other women can feel empowered to speak in the future. If you stay silent, for whatever reason, recognize that you are reinforcing the taboo and ambiguous attitude that currently exists. Remember to talk to your doctor at your next health visit if you think you might be experiencing symptoms, and encourage others to do the same. Let’s be supportive of one another and dispel the social stigma of menopause so all women can have a voice and not be ashamed to seek help and support if they need it.
Menopause is not just a female issue, it’s a natural process of aging that affects all of us and our loved ones that we all need to take seriously without humiliation. Let’s spend a few moments talking about “the change,” what it means for you or someone you love, and how to navigate the uncomfortable conversations so that we feel more confident talking to doctors, coworkers, friends, and family about how exactly we are being affected and ways to seek relief.
Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.