A recent survey found that 45% of women felt that menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work. But thanks to an increased focus from campaigning groups, charities and the media, more people than ever are starting to talk openly about the menopause.
Menopause doesn’t just affect people who identify as women. It can also affect some transgender men, non-binary people and intersex people.
What are the stages of menopause?
‘Menopause is the natural ageing process of a woman’s ovaries, affecting their production of oestrogen and progesterone, and eventually causing periods and ovulation to stop,’ explains Dr Rosén. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.
Perimenopause is the transition towards menopause which can take several years. The first sign is usually a change to your menstrual cycle where it starts to become shorter and more irregular, and then becomes heavier with longer bleeds.
Your oestrogen production will continue to decrease for a few years after you reach menopause. Around 5 years after your last period marks the end of menopause and the beginning of post-menopause.
What are the most common menopause symptoms?
‘Although it can be a slow and gradual process, women may experience a range of mild to severe symptoms’, says Dr Rosén.
‘The decrease in hormone levels will affect the body in many different ways, and be different for every person.’
There are 3 key types of symptoms caused by menopause – changes to your periods, your mental health and your physical health.
Other physical symptoms include hot flushes, problems sleeping, heart palpitations, low libido, vaginal dryness, joint pain and migraines.
How can menopause affect you at work?
Menopause can have a significant impact on your working life. Sometimes the symptoms of menopause or your working conditions while going through the menopause can affect your concentration, attention to detail or ability to carry out your role properly.
‘Lots of women find managing their menopause symptoms in the workplace challenging – partly because of how difficult it can be to talk openly about menopause at work,’ says Dr Elisabeth Rosén.
The good news is that workplaces are getting better at supporting menopausal women who are the fast-growing demographic at work in the UK.
How to manage menopause symptoms at work
Opening up about your health to someone at work can feel uncomfortable or awkward. Especially if you don’t feel comfortable talking about personal matters to colleagues.
But the first step to getting help is to speak to your line manager, HR team or occupational health service. The more we talk, the easier the conversations will become.
1. Keep communicating Regular conversations can help to discuss things like flexible working hours, working from home and your work environment (easy access to fresh air, bathroom facilities, cold water etc.) It can be helpful to take notes of your menopausal symptoms as well as how they are affecting you.
2. Share your experience It can be helpful to let others know you’re going through the menopause – either with colleagues you can trust or with external support groups. This can help reduce the stigma and widen your support network. You may also want to prepare for conversations at work by talking it through with a friend or family member.
3. Ask about adjustments There are lots of practical changes that can make a big difference, and you’re entitled to ask for these. For hot flushes, ask about a desk fan or to sit near a window. Ahead of any meetings to discuss your symptoms, have a think about some of these solutions so that your employer knows you’re taking your health and work seriously.
4. Build in breaks to your day Give yourself enough rest and quiet time to recharge throughout the day, and make this a priority. Meditation, mindfulness and other relaxation techniques during your break may help to reduce your symptoms too. It’s also important to stick to a regular sleep routine, so that you can properly rest after each working day.
5. Make the most of technology You may already do so, but it can help to set yourself digital reminders for important meetings and tasks, or get into the habit of using digital note-taking tools. This technology is a great way to overcome the stress caused by brain fog and other memory-related symptoms.
6. Ask about other support Find out if your employer has a menopause policy or health insurance which can guide you through the support available. For example, can your workstation be more comfortable? In some areas you can access local menopause cafes or online groups to speak to people going through a similar experience.
7. Take the time you need If you’re struggling to manage your symptoms, speak to your employer about whether you need to take some time off. Outside of work, as well as treatment like HRT, you should consider making some simple lifestyle changes such as more regular exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet.