How to thrive, not just survive in menopause: advocating for yourself at work
Support at work and how to ask for what you need
Women can begin experiencing signs of menopause any time from the age of 35 (more commonly 45), and they can be both disruptive and distracting - right when we're hitting our prime in the workplace.
The Menopause and the Workplace report by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, polling 4,000 women aged 45-55, found that 10% left heir jobs because of menopause symptoms. If women want to leave their jobs, that's one thing, but if they feel they have to leave their jobs because they aren't getting enough support for something beyond their control, that's not ok. It's time to get informed and take control.
In our third Guide in our How to thrive in menopause series, we look at work life, the things that can help you manage the unwanted consequences of menopause while you pursue your career, and how to ask your employer for the things you need to thrive in the workplace.
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The most common ways menopause affects women at work
While there are 34 symptoms of menopause, those that are most commonly cited by women as causing problems in the workplace, or causing them to ultimately leave the work environment are as follows, with percentages from the Menopause and the Workplace report.
- Anxiety or depression - 39%
- Brain fog/memory issues - 73%
- Loss of confidence - 52%
- Lost motivation - 61%
- Fatigue (from sleep issues) - 84%
- Joint pain
- Hot flushes
An article in The Guardian also spoke to multiple women about issues that affect them at work (and beyond), and hot flushes and debilitating joint pain featured heavily. One lady, Gillian, said:
“My symptoms mean that being at work, without any support, is like torture [...] My joints are so painful that I can’t move without agony. My head is in such a muddle that I can’t keep two thoughts in it at the same time and the anxiety is so bad it wakes me up at night.”
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Simple changes employers can make to help menopausal women at work
As things stand, just 7% of women said they received specific interventions to support them at work.
Some found more general policies that helped by default (like flexible working), a number said that employers were sympathetic but support didn't go much beyond that and nearly half said they experienced no help at all.
Upsettingly, 41% said that they felt menopause symptoms were treated as a joke by people at work, while 29% believed employers couldn't do anything to help - but they can, and it doesn't have to be especially complicated.
For example, some of the changes employers can make to help menopausal women at work include:
- Create a formal menopause policy complete with a risk assessment to inform necessary adjustments
- Include women in your workplace in conversations about reasonable, helpful adjustments
- Make sure managers are fully informed about menopause and its impact on women
- Offer desk fans or air conditioning for hot flushes
- Enable flexible working hours to help with tiredness or provide time for therapeutic support
- Create a culture of understanding and communication at work
- Offer to move workstations to cooler locations
- Provide readily available access to cool drinks
- Make sure there are adequate toilet facilities and provide sanitary products
- Allow regular breaks and opportunities to take medication
- Allow people to move around if it helps
- Consider any weight baring requirements of the job and see if they need reconsidering
- Provide additional uniforms for anyone experiencing hot flushes
- Make sure there are adequate changing facilities in the office
- Facilitate use of digital options to support memory issues (if individuals need training or demos to make the use of technology, it may be a helpful
An extensive guide has been put together by the CIPD and BUPA, which you may find helpful.
You can also point your boss or manager towards our article on how employers can help menopausal women at work.
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How to ask for menopause support at work
Knowing that it's reasonable to ask for help and actually doing it are entirely different things, and much of that depends on the culture of the working environment itself. We understand that however empowered and successful you are, it can be difficult to advocate for yourself at work and ask for the things that you need (or to even truly know what you need), especially when your hormones are affecting you.
The following provides a few ideas on ways that may help you to get the support you need at work:
- Ask for a dedicated, private meeting with your manager or someone you trust
- Prepare your thoughts in advance to explain how you're feeling and things that may help (write it down if you think it may help)
- If possible, be specific about what you would like to happen
- Try to be part of the culture of change - encourage conversation with other women in the office
- Explain what you feel the alternative is if you are not supported at work if you feel it would be helpful
- Take notes and try to take time to consider responses - if you need to, ask if you can go away and think about it
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