Dealing with the rollercoaster highs and lows of the menopause on a personal level is one thing – add work into the mix and it’s tantamount to a white-knuckle ride, whether that’s trying to serve customers when a hot flush hits or keeping it together in a presentation as the brain fog descends.
And then there’s the emotional baggage to deal with – feeling watched, feeling like you’re failing, feeling like you’re past it, sentiments which are only heightened in uncertain economic times like now.
It’s hardly surprising then that a recent survey revealed four in 10 women say the menopause has had a negative impact on their work life.
The worst thing? Rather than sticking our hands up to ask for help, we do what we women are all too good at: we suck up the problem, decide it’s our fault and find a way of managing ourselves out of the situation.
Time and time again, we hear about capable, talented women going part time or giving up jobs they enjoy and rely on to pay their bills. They talk about being too tired, losing their confidence, feeling overwhelmed, convinced they’re underperforming, struggling with their colleagues or bosses. Removing themselves from the situation feels like their only option. It’s a travesty – and it needs to stop.
Thankfully there’s lots we can do to put things right, from lifestyle changes to make us feel more energised to practical ways to improve the situation at work. Don’t even think about quitting or scaling back your hours until you’ve tried them.
How to get help at work
1. Find out what support your company offers
Organisations are, thankfully, increasingly recognising they need to do more to support their colleagues who are going through the menopause. Just think about how pregnant women are (quite rightly) supported at work – the menopause shouldn’t be any different.
Check with your line manager or HR department to see if there’s anything formal in place and what support you can get, such as switching to flexible working, a temporary reduction in your hours, changes to your shift patterns, increased comfort breaks or access to showers.
If your company doesn’t have a menopause policy, you could suggest they look at developing one. The Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have some great, free advice on their websites.
In the meantime, find a friendly ally such as your line manager, someone in HR or occupational health and flag how your symptoms are affecting you. You might be surprised at the support you’re offered whether that’s coming in later for a few weeks while you sort your sleep out or being given memory-aids to help ease the brain fog. You could even piggyback a chat about your menopause onto a performance review.
To find out more about your legal rights and protection, check out the Equality Act 2010 and The Health and Safety Work Act 1974.
2. Believe in yourself
Any idea that you’re ‘past it’ is bonkers – a 50-something woman has another 40% of life (that’s about 36 years) still ahead of her and that’s plenty of time to learn new skills
If you feel you’re getting left behind by younger colleagues, it might be that extra training, upskilling, coaching or counselling could help you. Feel a wobble coming on? Tune out the demons by focusing on the good stuff – you have a wealth of experience that your younger colleagues would kill for. A chat with a coach can do wonders for your confidence too.
3. Keep your cool
You don’t need me to tell you that the physical symptoms of the menopause can be as challenging at work as the psychological ones. Think about changes to your environment that could make hot flushes more bearable, like having a cool drink to hand or having a fan by your desk. Maybe the colleague who sits by the window would swap with you?
Stifling, synthetic, work uniforms can be a menopausal woman’s nightmare. More and more companies are beginning to realise they need to update their uniform policies if they want to hang onto their valued, experienced and dedicated female workforce.
Until those changes happen can you remove a layer or just wear the uniform when customers or clients are around? Just undoing a top button can also help. You can find more ways to deal with hot flushes.
How to manage the symptoms
1. Reclaim your sleep
We all need a good night’s sleep to function properly. If you’ve been tossing and turning all night just turning up for a work is a challenge, never mind doing something constructive when you get there.
Exhaustion, anxiety, lack of confidence, memory problems and poor concentration can all stem from physical tiredness as well as being standalone symptoms of the menopause.
Working out why you are waking or not dropping off in the first place is key. Start with your pre-bedtime routine. A G&T may feel like the perfect way to unwind but can have quite the opposite effect on your slumber. Switch to a low-alcohol or non-alcoholic option instead. You might be surprised at how little you miss the harder stuff and realise that, actually, it’s more about the ritual of making the drink than what’s actually in the glass.
If night sweats are keeping you awake, switch to cotton bedding and nightwear. Keep a change of nightie and a towel by the bed and buy some cooling sprays. HRT can manage both hot flushes and night sweats so chat to a doctor about this and other medical ways of managing your night sweats.
If your poor sleep is due to a frazzled mind, try yoga. Free YouTube classes are a great way to get started. Just a few minutes of meditation a day can also help you keep your head straight.
2. Re-energise your diet
How often have you knocked back that first latte of the day only to feel shattered a couple of hours later? Caffeine – and sugar – give us an initial boost but we quickly crash and burn. Limit the number you have, try decaffeinated or keep a stash of herbal teabags in your handbag. For a healthier mid-morning energy fix, go for a 10-minute power walk, have a cool glass of sparkling water and eat something with some slow-release carbohydrates or protein like wholemeal toast or nuts.
Eating plenty of fruit and veg and keeping hydrated will also help you feel energised and, in turn, more positive at work.
3. Get a confidence boost
We all know how good it feels to share a load with a friend. Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) go one step further, helping you to break out of the vicious circle of negative thinking, low confidence, anxiety and stress. CBT can also help with physical symptoms of the menopause like hot flushes, night sweats and poor sleep.
Menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on how you feel at work – but that’s all they are – symptoms. It’s not that you can’t cope or are losing your abilities (or marbles).
The important thing is that you ask for help – whether that’s from your employer, your doctor or from an expert who can help to take the weight off your shoulders.
Not only will you feel more comfortable physically, you’ll feel in a better place mentally too and the more we all have the conversation, the better this will be for everyone.
Finally, remember you’re not alone – we are very much in this together.
Helen Normoyle is the former CMO of Boots and a women’s wellness champion. She set up the My Menopause Centre with GP and registered menopause specialist Dr Clare Spencer.