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Menopause is a big change in every woman’s life.
As a result, the way menopause is handled in the workplace can make a big difference. The sort of working environment – where menopause is openly discussed and accepted – is one that many of us women in Australia can only dream of.
More often we silently deal with menopausal symptoms that can, for some, be unpleasant, unpredictable, and often embarrassing.
Why don’t we discuss it?
Menopause usually occurs between ages 45 and 55, arriving at a time when many of us women are in the prime of our working lives. Half of the world’s population experiences, or will experience, this biological change and yet, it is often not discussed in the workplace.
The symptoms are all too familiar – hot flushes, sweating, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and the tiredness caused by disrupted sleep. And this can go on for years.
More than 5,000 women across five countries were surveyed and nearly 1,700 of those who had symptoms said they hid them at work. Nearly half felt there was a stigma around talking about menopause.
“There has been a cultural shift in thinking about menopause as a workforce issue. And it’s beginning to gain momentum around the world.” KATHLEEN RIACH, PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF MANAGEMENT AT MONASH BUSINESS SCHOOL
The feeling of shame is huge
Shame is also a factor, according to Professor Martha Hickey, Chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. She explains: “I think the shame issue is huge. anything that has to do with women [often] has shame associated with it. Ageing also brings shame. For a woman to function at work while dealing with menopause and its associated links with ageing is very stressful”
“Menopause is generally accepted as an undesirable life change, associated with the ageing process, the end of fertility, and symptoms that aren’t wanted. In the workplace women may fear speaking out as they may feel that their work colleagues or superiors may feel that they are unable to do their job and are ‘past it’.” DR SONIA DAVISON, JEAN HAILES ENDOCRINOLOGIST
How to handle menopause in the Workplace
“Hot flushes and night sweats are the cardinal [most relevant] symptoms,” says Prof Hickey. “It’s multiple awakenings at night which is the killer. Women are going into work tired, and this is particularly hard if they are doing shift work.”
Dr Davison says it makes sense for menopausal women to be supported at work. They have a great deal of life experience and ‘corporate memory’.
An understanding manager and workplace environment are important. However, she believes that we can also put our hands up and say we are not managing. “It’s about a bit of courage, knowledge, and wanting change.”
Research has demonstrated that the first conversation with a manager can make a big difference to a woman’s experience. “If the managers are trained to discuss the menopausal experience with women who come to them, if it is affirming and positive, then the woman will work throughout the menopause,” says Prof Riach.
“We are not saying that every line manager should be a menopause expert. All that needs to be said is, ‘thank you for telling me and I’ll come back to you’, and then follow up with how they can practically support that employee. It’s at that moment that the woman gets the message that she is a valued employee.” KATHLEEN RIACH, PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF MANAGEMENT AT MONASH BUSINESS SCHOOL
- Remember that workplaces are legally obliged to look after the health and safety of their staff and prevent discrimination around age and medical/health issues.
- Keep in mind that menopause is an entirely normal and natural process.
- Consider having a conversation with your manager or supervisor if you are struggling with symptoms.
- Think about what changes would be useful to you in your role. Bring these ideas and suggestions to the conversation.
- If you’re in a leadership position, create a menopause-supportive working environment with the help of the resources listed below.
- Consider sharing your experience with your female co-workers. You may find that you are not alone.
- Consult your doctor if your symptoms are severe or affecting your quality of life.
Thanks to the Jean Hailes organisation for their valuable information. Click here to learn more about menopausal symptoms on the Jean Hailes website.
The makers of Khapregesic® BioActive Natural Health, source their plant material from a sustainable Certified Organic Australian farm. It is available for purchase at www.khapregesic.com.au
Important notice: Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if your symptoms are severe or last more than two weeks.