So menopause has been in the news a lot the past few days.
It started with Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies recommending that guidelines are produced for employers to help them provide support to women who need it during menopause. She went on to promote the idea that bosses should encourage women to talk more freely about menopause in the workplace.
There was a swift response from Jane Shilling in The Telegraph whose view is that by highlighting the impact menopause symptoms have on some women in the work arena there’s a danger that all us women of a certain age will be labeled as “dotty old dears in need of special treatment”.
Her point that a most likely menopausal Mrs Pankhurst didn’t let hot flushes stop her from spear heading the suffragette movement is a good one but menopause is a very personal experience and how you manage it is very personal too.
The menopausal mud slinging reportedly between Jenni Murray and Miriam O’Reily is not helpful with the former saying those suffering with signs of menopause should “just get on with it” and it was “wrong to single out women over 45 as a victim group in need of special attention.” Miriam O’Reilly was apparently “incensed by the comments” dismissing them as “sweeping statements”.
It’s perhaps not surprising that these women have such strong opinions as one of the many outcomes of dropping oestrogen levels is that you really do care less about what other people think and will voice your opinions far more freely than in your former years.
So back to Sally Davies rallying cry that women should be freely discussing signs of menopause in the workplace.
I confess that my immediate reaction to the idea of discussing my menopause symptoms with my boss was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY!
I’m lucky I run my own business now – showing women how to manage menopause symptoms so that you can remain cool and confident at work. I have control of my environment and if I want to open a window I can. I work the hours I choose so if I’m really tired I can finish early.
However, back in my corporate days I obviously didn’t have control over my working environment or working hours. My last corporate boss was male, Australian and younger than me.
A great boss in many ways (just in casing you’re reading this Richard!), but would I want to talk to him about my hot flushes, UTI or mood swings. Er I think not.
And how would reporting my brain fog, lack of focus, and need for a nap mid afternoon have impacted my career prospects at the FTSE100 where I worked.
Well the unfortunate truth is that currently a conversation like that may well damage your career prospects because there is no specific legislation in place to protect women whose job performance is affected by menopause.
And there’s no doubt menopause can affect your working experience.
A study by University of Nottingham in 2010 showed that almost half of those women interviewed felt their job performance had been negatively affected by menopausal symptoms. The most common symptoms were:
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
And guess what, hot flushes were cited as a major source of distress for women during the day.
The study also showed that many women are embarrassed to disclose their problems to managers particularly where the managers were younger or male.
In some cases time was taken off work for menopause related symptoms but the real reason for absence was not disclosed. Hardly a great working relationship between boss and employee.
So what’s to be done?
Surely us women of a certain age are due the same protection as women who are pregnant. How about some Menopause Leave?
If you can take 12 months out to have a baby why not take 12 months out to manage your menopause symptoms.
Traditionally that’s what women did anyway; retreat from the community to spend time in the company of other women going through the same experience.
Now it’s unlikely your boss is going to have the option to offer you 12 months menopause leave in the near future so why not, as Sally Davies suggests, start with talking. The talking however needs to lead to positive action which will:
- increase awareness and reduce knowledge gaps for managers around their ability to recognize and adapt to the needs of female staff who are struggling with signs of menopause so that job performance isn’t impacted
- improve the experience of women suffering menopause symptoms in the workplace so the impact on job performance is minimal.
In the meantime ladies, let’s support each other and respect the choices we each make to manage our menopause years.
No one has the right to tell a woman how she should or shouldn’t manage her menopause years.
So no more menopausal mud slinging please. Instead I invite you to join the hot flush freedom fighters. It’s a private Facebook group for you to share your stories, advice and top tips on managing symptoms and to ask questions and support one another. CLICK HERE to join us.