The evolution of Menopause in the workplace
Menopause awareness in the workplace has gained so much traction in the last few years. It has gone from a largely taboo topic that wasn’t even spoken about between mothers and daughters, to an open conversation not only between friends but also colleagues in the work place.
Throughout my 20’s, 30’s and much of my 40’s, menopause was just something that happened to older women. It signaled the end of our childbearing days with the feelings that this manifested. However, thanks to the more open conversations that now happen around the menopause, I’ve learnt and experienced as a 53 year old that it’s so much more than that. I’ve learnt that some of the things I have experienced over the last few years are due to peri- menopause, a phrase I wasn’t even aware of in my 30’s or even early 40’s, but can last for up to 10 years. Symptoms I hadn’t realized were even part of it, I had put down to being busy, tired and generally getting older. Peri-menopause symptoms are generally due to the decline and fluctuation in our hormones causing a confusing time with symptoms.
The Unique and Varied Menopausal Journey
Every woman’s experience of the menopause is unique, the physical symptoms they experience as well as the emotional impact that it has on the realization that our bodies are changing both internally and externally. It is reported that there are 34 recognised symptoms of the menopause, some more talked about than others.
We have all heard of the hot flashes, night sweats and brain fog, I have so far been lucky and personally not experienced these symptoms apart from some intermittent night sweats. I think I am one of the lucky ones, I have friends who suffer with all of these, the description of the feeling of burning from within when having a hot flash and watching as my friend visibly starts to look hot and can’t then concentrate, I have to say I secretly hope that it never happens to me, but 75% of all women will experience this for around 2 years.
There are also symptoms such as Bloating and dry eyes, which I started to become aware of as they hit. However in my experience, I hadn’t put two and two together with menopause. My optician diagnosed my dry eye when I was 48 during a routine eye check, when I asked what might have caused it, I was told it can just happen. It wasn’t for a long time that I read it can be connected with menopause. I started to wonder why at times my body literally blew up so I looked like I was 6 months pregnant, and so uncomfortable as my waistband cut in to me. I tried tracking my food, tracking my food intake, looking for something that I might be intolerant of, keeping food diaries and cutting out foods where I bloated afterwards. Again I hadn’t realized that this is a menopausal symptom caused by the hormone imbalance, decline and fluctuation affecting digestion.
Then we move to symptoms such as Anxiety, Depression and Mood swings. I’m lucky and haven’t experienced mood swings although, maybe I should double check with my family on this one! However, the Anxiety crept up on me, and in my case I get anxious over what would normally be quite minor things, such as not being able to deal with the letters that drop through the door that require me to do some ‘adulting’. I found that I just kept putting them off because I couldn’t face them, this I find hard to describe because it’s like I am unable to deal with the things that I have dealt with all of my adult life.
Coping Strategies: Balancing Work and Menopause
In my job I had no such issues, I just get on with it, for me I think I know I have to function in the workplace, so it manifested at home where I didn’t do so well. I know this isn’t the case for many women and functioning at work suffers quite considerably. I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression after my daughter was born, I am aware of those symptoms and I recognize when I feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, I have steps I take to try not to fall back into that dark place and have done this for the last 20 years.
A survey in February 2022 by Newson Heath found that 44% of all women had 3 or more symptoms and struggled to cope with them, they felt it impacted on their home and work lives. It’s not unreasonable to assume that it impacts relationships with partners and children let alone her workplace colleagues and work life.
As mentioned earlier, this is my unique story of navigating the menopause, so far I have been lucky, my symptoms have been manageable, I haven’t even needed to consult my GP, however this is not the case for all women and I have heard some varyingly different experiences from friends and colleagues and from those who do seek help from the NHS, it’s not all plain sailing.
The Power of Open Conversations
Our experiences are all different, but all women have to face that menopause is going to happen to us at some point or other. It is clear that the menopause awareness movement in recent years has enabled us to talk openly about what has or is happening to us during this time. I have also been pleasantly surprised that these discussions in the CogniSoft offices have been welcomed by male colleagues because the menopause indirectly affects or will affect many of them as well. They are keen to understand how to help their female colleagues as well as be aware of the support that their wives or partner may need.
As an employer I want to encourage open conversations in the workplace, these general and societal open discussions help raise awareness in our younger colleagues, friends and daughters so that they can start to prepare with research, diet, exercise and lifestyle to make their own menopause journey less confusing and more….I have to say I struggled with this last word, switching between supported, enjoyable, manageable but I finally landed with empowering!