Menopause is a part of the ageing process and will affect every woman at some point in their life. We are in a world where women are working longer. Looking at the age range, the time when menopause affects women in their lives and providing that it may last for few years (average four years), many women may go through menopause while they are still working.
Women at or approaching the menopause, those who have had a premature menopause (before the age of 40) or a hysterectomy fall into the group of females who often have difficulties dealing with menopause while working.
Symptoms can vary amongst individuals affected but main symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, heavy and painful periods and related symptoms such as sleep disruption. Sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, fatigue, moodiness, headaches and difficulty concentrating next day. This can be problematic when you are dealing with customers and in stressful situations. Severe flushes can sometimes cause sweat to soak through clothing. All these symptoms pose significant and embarrassing problems for some women, leaving them feeling less confident. These symptoms can affect the quality of both personal and working life for women.
Work conditions like poor ventilation, high-temperature work environment or the bathroom too far away can make symptoms worse and aggravate menopause-related discomfort. Other conditions linked to the menopause include heart palpitations, cystitis/urinary tract infections and even increased the risk of other, more serious conditions such as osteoporosis. These symptoms can begin 2 to 7 years before the menopause, during the transitional time known as peri-menopause, when production of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decrease. It is obviously not much fun while you go through these symptoms in the background and thus it can make your normal routine tasks much harder work to do.
Employers have responsibilities for the health and safety of all their employees, hence there is a good reason to consider the needs of this group of workers. Most of the organisations do not have clear processes to support women at this stage of life compared to while being pregnant or having other medical conditions. Regular, informal conversations between manager and employee may enable discussion of changes in health. It may be valuable simply to acknowledge that menopause is a normal stage of life and that adjustments can be easily made. Such conversations can identify support at work that can help women.
However, employers need to recognise that the majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause-related health problems to their managers, especially when they are men and younger than them and struggle to cope with their symptoms as this is not a subject that is easily spoken about. This may have to be through human resources, a welfare officer or an occupational health professional.
The menopause has been regarded as a taboo subject. But this is changing as employers gradually acknowledge the potential impact of the menopause on women and become aware of the simple steps they can take to be supportive.