The symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause vary from woman to woman, but all of them can wreak havoc on the body and undermine your ability to work effectively. Yet, discussions about things related to menopause rarely occur in the workplace. One reason: women in their perimenopausal years are often reaching the pinnacle of their careers.
Two executive-level women in the tech industry that were interviewed for an article
published in the Harvard Business Review explain:
“Moderating that high-profile panel, in front of 200 industry experts, should have been a career highlight. It was a disaster.”
“Those years of confusion, self-doubt, and severe anxiety practically killed my
It’s natural to want to keep your personal life private, but some facets of menopause make that nearly impossible. Going through menopause while working will have its difficult or awkward moments, but knowing your rights, learning everything you can about menopause, shoring up your self-esteem, and embracing the occasional need to ask for help can make things a bit easier. Here are some things that may help.
Get Educated About Menopause Discrimination
During menopause, many working women are afraid to discuss their symptoms or even publicly acknowledge what they’re going through out of fear of humiliation, retaliation, or discrimination. It’s natural to be nervous, but the days of pretending that natural aging processes don’t require conversations are behind us.
Donna Faye Randall, a reproductive health specialist and former Planned Parenthood executive director, believes that the “work culture [needs to] acknowledge menopause as a natural part of aging.” In so doing, that means recognizing the need for reasonable accommodations whenever possible.
Although widespread legislation treating perimenopause and menopause as a protected health condition in the same way that pregnancy or disability are treated does not yet exist in the US like it does in the UK, many companies willingly accommodate the needs of their female employees because of the value they bring to the company. And since the national Menopause at Work survey revealed that “the symptoms of menopause [would] affect more than 75 percent of working women in the United States” by 2020, employers are becoming much better at discussing everything from symptoms to scheduling with their esteemed female staff.
Bring the Discussion Out Into the Open
Despite making amazing progress in the career world, most women keep mum on
menopause. And yet, it’s a normal, natural part of aging that every woman experiences. Silence never works. It doesn’t help people understand the process; it doesn’t lead to a sense of community; and it can undermine relationships between people because they can’t understand, help, or support each other without fully knowing what’s going on.
Break the wall of silence initially by talking with those you love and trust. Each
conversation will give you more confidence, so start with your family and friends and work up to sharing details with your peers and coworkers. Depending on the size of your workplace, you’re likely to find common ground. There is strength in numbers, and if you share your feelings, fears, symptoms, and concerns, you’ll create richer relationships both at home and at work.
Get Tailored Information About All Things Related to Menopause
Many online and lunchtime seminars, like Lunch and Learn by Henpicked, provide
valuable information about hormone replacement therapy, symptom management,
nutrition, and even coping strategies within a short 30–60 minute format. These
webinars bring the menopause discussion out into the open in an informative, useful way without requiring hours of training or commitment.
Webinars like ‘Understanding the menopause’ given by Norma Goldman, director and founder of The Menopause Exchange, receive glowing testimonials from attendees, such as one participant who said,
“This talk has opened a door for me where I feel that I know where to get
information about the menopause, including health promotion and dietary
Learn How to Battle Brain Fog
One symptom of menopause that’s particularly troubling – especially in the workplace – is a type of forgetfulness known as brain fog. Sometimes, you forget the little things, like your voicemail password. But when brain fog arises during an important business meeting or presentation, it can be devastating. One woman, who had been suffering for two years with brain fog told Healthy Women.org,
“It makes decision-making more difficult and details are often missed […] my
cognitive abilities slow down, my responses slow down; it feels like my neurons are working in slow motion, as if they’re stoned.”
Research has verified that decreased memory function and estradiol levels go hand in hand, so if you’re feeling like you can’t think clearly or are less certain about the decisions you’re making, it’s actually a real symptom – and you can take steps to lessen its impact on your work life. Take a coffee break with your colleagues. Aside from its well known stimulating effects, caffeine increases mental function. Additionally, boost your diet with brain foods, like fatty fish, brightly colored berries, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Manage Your Workplace Hot Flashes By Rethinking Your Wardrobe
Company policy frequently dictates that apparel be synonymous with an employee’s position. Formal business attire often includes suit coats and stockings, both of which can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable when a hot flash comes on. Industry experts have recommended that employers relax the dress code for women, so they can remove their jackets temporarily when their temperature rises with these hormone- related bursts.
If you’re regularly experiencing hot flashes at work, try wearing light layers instead of heavy singular garments. A sweater can be easily removed during a hot flash, but a dress cannot. Adding a personal fan and a refreshing facial mist to your desk or cubicle will also help when your temperature spikes, and a little moving air can enhance the cooling power of the mist.
Consider Working Alternative Hours or Remotely
Daytime drowsiness affects everyone, but insomnia and night sweats make falling
asleep on the job a real concern. Sleep deprivation has a well-documented history of causing daytime fatigue for workers of both sexes, and menopausal symptoms can be deeply disruptive to sleep cycles. According to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 56 percent of perimenopausal women reported being unable to get more than seven hours of sleep in a night.
Around menopause, women may also suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea. Hormones are believed to keep apnea at bay for the most part, but fluctuations in estrogen during perimenopause may result in a sleep disorder that gets written off as a simple part of the aging process.
Instead of struggling in silence or muscling through the malaise, ask your employer about adopting flexible hours, so you can be more productive when you’re feeling fresh and focused. Technology has made working remotely easier than ever, so don’t hesitate to improve your working situation by asking for accommodations.
Develop a Self-Care Routine
If your company offers access to a gym, take advantage of everything it has to offer. In addition to hot flashes and mood swings, menopause can exacerbate stress, and exercise is a great way to refocus your energies while fighting hormone-related weight gain. Check with the facility to see if they offer exercise programs that connect women in perimenopause with trainers who understand the effects fluctuating hormones have on the female body, especially during exercise.
For example, in her research study, Wendy Sweet, Ph.D., an expert in health and
fitness, interviewed a 54-year-old woman who echoed an experience many
perimenopausal women can relate to.
“You know, I’ve gone through three personal trainers now. Every one of them put me through workouts that exhausted me. They don’t seem to realize that I’m not 20 anymore. I don’t want to go back to the gym. My joints just hurt so much when I do those workouts now.”
If you’re unable to find a gym that fits your fancy, consider creating a walking group with a few of your coworkers. Chances are you work with women who are experiencing the same symptoms, and walking allows you to both exercise and support one another outside the workplace. As an added bonus, exercise helps reduce brain fog, too!
Lead by Example
If you happen to work in human resources or are in a leadership role in your company, consider paving the way for the next generation by creating menopause awareness training that benefits everyone in the organization. You can create PowerPoint presentations, training manuals, and workbooks, or hire healthcare experts to speak with your staff during short seminars.
Discuss Healthcare Offerings that Include Menopause Counseling
As sad as it is to say, many women leave the workforce rather than seeking
accommodations to keep working. As of December 2015, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that the number of women in the 45–54 age bracket dropped despite their being considered in the “prime-age group.” Declining numbers do not specifically point to perimenopause as a factor for leaving employment, but additional data indicates that the “55-years-and-older age group is the only one among all the age groups that has experienced increases in its participate rate in the labor market since 1994.” Considering that most women are post-menopausal by this age, it’s safe to say that they return to work after their symptoms reside.
Before doing something drastic, like leaving a career that’s fulfilling and challenging, check with your healthcare provider to see if your plan covers services similar to those offered by Cedars Sinai’s Women’s Hormone and Menopause Program. These programs provide diagnostic assistance as well as counseling for conditions that may coexist during menopause, like thyroid problems, bone density concerns, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.