Menopause- An unspoken life stage for women!
Careers need not be stilted or threatened by the impact of menopause. Even though there is no “typical” menopause, some easy and inexpensive workplace adjustments can be made to help with symptoms
For many, menopause conjures up feelings of embarrassment, hot flushes, mood swings and sleep disturbance. It is something uncomfortable, private, and seen as a "women's issue".
There are societal stigmas and taboos associated with it because that is when women stop procreating, i.e. stop having children or end their fertility.
Till recently, it has never been seen or recognised as a workplace issue. Even now, a recognition that menopause is a diversity and inclusion and a business issue has not sunk in.
♦ The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51. However, it can be earlier than this due to surgery, illness, or natural early menopause.
♦ Of these, three out of four experience mild to moderate symptoms; one in four has severe symptoms.
♦ Around eight in ten menopausal women are at work.
The scale of the problem and effect on work
The experience and symptoms of menopause will vary from mild to moderate to severe and debilitating. In addition to hot flashes and insomnia, women also experience headaches, loss of energy, anxiety attacks, brain fog, aches and pains, and dry skin and eyes.
This translates to a part of the workforce potentially being at work without enough sleep, sweating to death at their desks with intermittent headaches, no energy, and an achy body. Also, perhaps more worryingly, it has been estimated that around 10 per cent of women stop work altogether because of their severe menopausal symptoms.
Research has shown women experiencing menopause-related symptoms have often been misdiagnosed as suffering from mental ill-health or other conditions, and have also at times been misjudged as having attitude issues, lower engagement wat work, lowered aspirations etc.
This in turn has led to their lower motivation with higher intention to quit their job when wrongly assessed.
The onset of menopausal symptoms in a woman therefore affects the organization directly. So it is no longer an individual's problem, but one that organisations need to take cognisance of and build into their diversity and people management policies and practices.
At the time of menopause, the work culture and the way organisations deal with the employee going through the phase plays a big part. It starts with creating the environment to talk about menopause openly and without embarrassment. It is a natural phase in every woman's life that needs to be normalised.
The stigma makes it challenging to treat
That menopause has traditionally been seen as a private matter or 'a women's issue',it is certainly not a topic which is often discussed openly, or which has been considered in the design of workplaces and working practices.
It brings with it physical changes to the body and for many women can cause physical and psychological symptoms. Importantly, it is observed that some women's symptoms get worse, while others improve as they transition through menopause, so this is a critical life phase that needs intervention.
Many women have reported that workplace environments and practices made symptoms worse. Barriers included male-dominated workplaces, unaware managers, fear of negative responses, stigma, discrimination, embarrassment, or believing menopause is inappropriate to discuss at work.
Break the silence
There is a need to spread awareness regarding the issue. People must know the symptoms and challenges women face during menopause so they can approach the situation knowledgeably and with compassion.
What is the solution?
Both individuals and organisations need to take steps.
At the individual level-
♦ Dress comfortably. Wear fabrics that keep you cool and comfortable.
♦ Practice deep breathing, a one-minute silence and other such activities that help you manage stress.
♦ Instead of waiting until your lunch break to grab a bite to eat, choose healthy snacks to munch on throughout the day.
♦ Find a friend at workplace or female supervisor with whom you can share your menopause symptoms to reduce stress and make you feel better.
♦ Stay Hydrated and drink at least eight to ten glasses of water a day as some women quickly dehydrate during menopause, due to hot flashes and night sweats.
♦ Take time out for youself- event 30 minutes a day is enough. Go for a walk while listening to your favorite music, or learn something new (painting, sculpting, mosaic, yoga, gardening, whatever excites you).
♦ If the symptoms of menopause continue to impact your quality of life, even with these menopause management tips, seek medical help.
♦ Let your HR and Manager know that you need help and flexibility. Always remember this is a normal thing that happens to every woman. It happens to men too and is called andropause.
Organisational policy and culture can play an active part
There should be a menopause policy just like we have maternity policy or child care policy or flexi working policies.
Organisational practices should put managing menopause on the workplace agenda. Including menopause in occupational health and safety and HR policies can also challenge hidden biases.
They create an environment where women feel confident enough to raise issues about their symptoms and ask for adjustments at work.
The policies should also include a range of practical steps to support women going through menopause. These include increased frequency of breaks, access to toilet facilities, adjustment to uniform, flexible working arrangements which includes work from home.
Access to coaching programs, mentors and health services is also vital. Add sick-day policies that cater to menopause-related sickness or absence.
Women should experience no disadvantage if they need time off during this time. Managers should be trained in dealing with women undergoing menopause, the way they are trained in subjects like conflict management and finances.
Expand medical benefits and policies to include alternative therapies to women who are seeking these therapies for managing the menopausal symptoms but cannot afford them.
As said earlier, this happens to every woman.
Just like we experience puberty, we experience menopause. Just like we needed guidance, empathy and sensitivity when we went through onset of menstruation, we need understanding, flexibility, empathy amd medical support when we go through menopause. It's a life stage.
We cant avoid it or turn a blind eye! Time to acknowledge and address it constructively!
-The writer is a managing partner, Marching Sheep