Sunday 18th October is World Menopause Day.
World Menopause Day is recognised every year, in order to raise awareness of the menopause and the support options available.
As a 30 something women, this is my personal story of trying to find out more about this taboo subject and understand what impact this can have on workplace performance.
After 7 years of being a stay at home mum, I am back in the workplace and wow. It is just so different this time around, everything has changed. Pre kids, I would finish my shift and head straight to the pub with friends. Now I finish work, collect the children, cook their tea, check their homework, make packed lunches, play referee, and before you know it, I’m sat on the sofa desperately trying to stay awake past 10pm to make sure I hold onto every bit of me time possible… It never happens. Those partying days seem a distant memory.
I made a conscious decision to stay at home when my children were little. We didn’t have much childcare as both of our families worked, and paying for childcare was so expensive; so we figured it was best for me to do it and I must admit, although it was relentless at times, I love the fact that I had those precious early years with them and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
A friend of mine was able to carry on working whilst her children were little, so she totally gets how I’m feeling now, she had to adjust to juggling work and children years ago, so has been there and done it. I feel like I am starting from scratch, learning to juggle work and the kids with all their hectic social lives (which, quite frankly, put mine to shame). Life is just so busy, it’s hard to keep up.
My friend and I got talking about how no matter which road you take, whether it be a ‘stay at home’ Mum or a ‘working/ juggling’ Mum, ultimately, we’re all in the same boat. Life is tough and we’re all just trying to do our best, winging it as we go. She then joked about the menopause being the next thing we will have to face… I nearly spat my coffee out and said no chance, we’re far too young for that. I can honestly say I had never given it a second thought. But then the more I thought about it, I remembered, my mum began having symptoms at 40, and that’s only 5 years away for me. Surely that’s too early? Will I get early symptoms too? Will I have support?
Oh god, I’m sweating just thinking about it. I live in a house with 4 males; what will my husband and sons think? Will I feel alone? Will this have an impact on my work? With so many questions, I decided to do some research, initially for myself, but after speaking with colleagues (both male and female), we agreed it would be useful to share this more widely so we can support others and their workplaces. Here’s what I found…
The menopause (the last menstrual period) is a natural, biological part of aging which typically occurs between the age of 45-55 and affects women both physically and emotionally
3 out of 4 women will experience symptoms and 1 in 4 could experience serious symptoms
Symptoms can range from a loss of fertility, mood swings, migraines, decreased libido, night sweats, depression, sleep problems, memory loss and anxiety to name a few (there are over 34 symptoms!)
Menopause has often been considered a private matter and has been somewhat of a taboo. Over the years this has meant that many women have dealt with this in silence, hiding their symptoms and suppressing their feelings. The knock-on effect of this is that partners and other family members have no idea that their loved one is struggling, and unable to offer any support. This can make women feel totally alone and isolated, at a time when they need love and support the most.
This also applies to the workplace; according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), nearly 8 out of 10 of menopausal women are in work. Many employees feel too embarrassed to disclose that their menopausal symptoms are having an impact on them and therefore will have a knock-on effect to their work. This can result in staff taking time off when simple measures could be put in place to help them work more comfortably. Even today, many workplaces do not have a Menopause policy in place and many organisations have been slow to recognise the need for support to be offered and adjustments to be made for women embarking on this challenging period of their lives.
This subject totally intrigued me, so I decided to take my research a step further. I found lots of menopause support groups on social media, full of ‘warrior women’ sharing their experiences, offering advice and support to others. I am an avid fan of social media, but I didn’t even know that this online sisterhood existed, and the humour and openness made me feel included from the outset.
The Menopause Support Network on Facebook is a group offering a support service to women and their families. They were kind enough to allow me to conduct a survey of questions about the menopause, the effects it can have on women at home and in the workplace. Over 100 women took part in my survey, and here’s my key findings. Of the respondents:
The average age they went through the menopause was 51
68% said their menopause lasted more than 5 years
Over 80% suffered with anxiety, fatigue, memory loss and hot flushes, along with mood swings, trouble sleeping
- 73% suffered with night sweats too
42% said they felt too uncomfortable to talk to their manager about the menopause
- Another 26% said they were unsure whether or not they would speak to their manager about it
When asked if their workplaces have a Menopause policy, only 9% said yes
- 58% said no, and 33% were unsure
To try and get an idea of how things have changed from previous years, I asked my Aunty who is now in her 70s about her experience of the menopause:
Her menopause was an awful time of life and she didn’t like herself as a person (bear in mind she is one of the sweetest and kindest people I know). She said she felt snappy, irritable, and just totally fed up with life. Her hot flushes were unbearable, and they would creep up like an uninvited visitor at the most inappropriate time.
I asked her to describe a hot flush to me. She said, “Imagine heat rising through your body like an inferno and wanting to take a cap off your head to let the steam out.” She said her family would be commenting on how the house was freezing, whilst she would stand outside the back door trying to cool down.
It massively affected her working life too. At the time she worked in a bakery and there was ZERO talk or awareness about the ‘big M’. She and her friends dealt with it with no support or advice.
I also spoke with another relative who is in her forties and is currently going through the menopause:
Her workplace has been very accommodating, they always ensure there is cold water available in meeting rooms, which are well ventilated, and she is encouraged to take regular breaks for fresh air. There is a clear Menopause policy and guidance on the noticeboard explaining what support there is available.
Whilst this relative is a confident, and outspoken character, her experience shows that, things appear to be getting much better… more workplaces are finally starting to take the menopause more seriously as a women’s health issue, so hopefully things will continue to improve.
So what? Why am I writing this? I believe that if everyone can begin talking about the menopause more openly, it will be so much easier going forward. There is no need for it to be so silent. Let’s educate ourselves, our friends, our partners, our children, so when our children go through this in many years to come, there is no stigma. So, I have a few messages I would like to share with the people around me as I hurtle towards this period of my life.
To my husband - If I appear that I’m not myself, just be there, please understand, do not be scared… and finally please leave the thermostat alone.
To my sons - I’ve brought you up to always be respectful to women, and this is no different. Know that your mother is dealing with something and that with your love and support, it will be a lot less challenging.
To the women on the support groups - With the treasure trove of advice and support I have learned from your amazing online sisterhood, from all of you going through perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause, I feel so much more prepared thanks to your advice. I know that every woman will have her own experience and it is so important to share these trials and tribulations to help others and spread awareness. However it affects me, whether it is in five, ten or even fifteen years, I’m not scared. It may be tough, but so are we, and I know that you will have my back.
To managers and leaders in the workplace - I have collated these messages through my research and surveys not just for myself, but for you too. I’d like to encourage you to take small steps to be more inclusive for women going through the menopause:
- Be open, sensitive, show empathy, offer flexibility, read up on the menopause, understand that it can affect women in many ways. Think how you would want your mother/daughter treated.
- If you are going to book a meeting room please make sure it is well ventilated… and if you see our faces or necks turning red, please suggest a quick break
- I have taken the opportunity to create an infographic employers to help you Maximise Menopausal Performance at work
Lisa Hill, EA Inclusion
Download our Top Tips on Maximising Menopausal Performance Infographic
The Menopause Support Network - https://menopausesupport.co.uk/
Make Menopause Matter - http://chng.it/YFtYZ4jr7p
The Menopause Room - https://www.instagram.com/themenopauseroom/