With recent data showing that 45% of women say the effects of menopause has a negative impact on their working day understanding how to identify and manage the symptoms of menopause at work is vital for those navigating that period of their lives.
As October is Menopause Awareness Month, I spoke with Lead GP at digital health provider, Livi, Dr Bryony Henderson, who shared with me her advice on the best ways to manage menopause symptoms in the workplace with tips on how to bring this up to your employer.
What are the stages of menopause?
“Menopause is the natural ageing process of a person’s ovaries, affecting their production of oestrogen and progesterone, and eventually causing periods and ovulation to stop. The average age that a person will start to feel the effects of menopause is 51.
“Prior to menopause, it’s common to experience Perimenopause, which is the transition towards menopause which can take several years.
The first sign is usually a change to a menstrual cycle where it starts to become shorter and more irregular, and then becomes heavier with longer bleeds.
“Oestrogen production will continue to decrease for a few years after reaching menopause. Around five years after someone’s last period usually marks the end of menopause and the beginning of post-menopause.”
What are the most common menopause symptoms?
“Although it can be a slow and gradual process, it’s possible to experience a range of mild to severe symptoms.
Due to the decrease in hormone levels, this will affect the body in many different ways, and be different for every person.
“There are 3 key types of symptoms caused by menopause;
- Changes to your periods
- Your mental health
- Your physical health
“Some of the most common mental health symptoms include:
- Low mood
- Brain fog and problems with concentration
“Other physical symptoms include hot flushes, problems sleeping, heart palpitations, low libido, vaginal dryness, joint pain and migraines.”
How can menopause affect you at work?
“Menopause can have a significant impact on working life. Sometimes the symptoms of menopause can affect concentration and attention to detail which might impact the ability to carry out tasks associated with work.
“Many people find managing their menopause symptoms in the workplace challenging – partly because of how difficult it can be to talk openly about menopause at work. However, the good news is that there are signs of improvement when it comes to workplaces catering for those experiencing menopause.”
How to manage menopause symptoms at work
“Opening up about health to someone at work can sometimes feel uncomfortable or awkward, especially when it comes to personal matters.
The first step to getting help is to speak to your line manager, HR team or occupational health service, as the more we talk, the easier the conversations will become.
1. Keep communicating to management
“Regular conversations can help to discuss things like flexible working hours, working from home and your work environments such as easy access to fresh air, bathroom facilities and cold water.
It can be helpful to take notes of your menopausal symptoms as well as how they are affecting you to help with communicating these.”
2. Share your experience
“It can be helpful to let others know you’re going through menopause – either with colleagues, you can trust or with external support groups.
This can help reduce the stigma and widen your support network. You may also want to prepare for conversations at work by talking it through with a friend or family member.”
3. Ask about adjustments
“There are plenty of practical changes that can make a big difference, and you’re entitled to ask for these. For hot flushes, ask about a desk fan or to sit near a window.
Ahead of any meetings to discuss your symptoms, have a think about some of these solutions so that your employer knows you’re taking your health and work seriously.”
4. Build in breaks to your day
“Give yourself enough rest and quiet time to recharge throughout the day and make this a priority. Meditation, mindfulness and other relaxation techniques during your break may help to reduce your symptoms too.
It’s also important to stick to a regular sleep routine so that you can properly rest after each working day.
5. Make the most of technology
“You may already do so, but it can help to set yourself digital reminders for important meetings and tasks or get into the habit of using digital note-taking tools. This technology is a great way to overcome the stress caused by brain fog and other memory-related symptoms.
6. Ask about other support
“Find out if your employer has a menopause policy or health insurance which can guide you through the support available. For example, can your workstation be more comfortable?
In some areas, you can access local menopause cafes or online groups to speak to people going through a similar experience.”
7. Take the time you need
“If you’re struggling to manage your symptoms, speak to your employer about whether you need to take some time off.
Outside of work, as well as treatment like HRT, you should consider making some simple lifestyle changes such as more regular exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet.”