How to Navigate Through Menopause AND Your Career
In the workplace, women’s bodies are usually the subject of discussion when they decide to start or grow their families. Pregnancy and motherhood are hugely impactful on a woman’s career. However, they’re not the only phases of life that can have a lasting footprint. Menopause arrives in a woman’s late 40s or early 50s — right around the time she reaches her peak earning potential.
Women in the throes of menopause may experience a wide spectrum of symptoms. Though, “symptoms” isn’t really the right word: menopause is a biological phase and not a disease. Even still, these so-called symptoms can be incredibly intense for some women. One in four women experiences serious disruptions to their life caused by extreme symptoms like serious sleep disturbance, difficulty focusing, and hot flashes. These can make the pressure of work and balancing ever-growing responsibilities even more difficult.
We need to start talking about menopause in the workplace. But more importantly, we need to understand how menopause can impact a woman’s career and what we can do to support women as they navigate their changing hormones.
Menopause Gets in the Way of Satisfaction at Work
Menopause comes with hot flashes, sleep interruptions, and mood swings. These are enough to make life a little more difficult on a great day, but they can really make life harder at work. The good news is that severe symptoms of menopause don’t impact your performance per se. But it can impact your perception of work and therefore your job satisfaction. In a study on menopause and working life in the UK, researchers found:
- 65% of respondents reported difficulties concentrating
- 58% of respondents said they were more stressed
- 52% said they were less patient with co-workers and clients
None of these statistics are a surprise when you consider the symptoms involved. Insomnia, hot flashes, headaches, anxiety, brain fog, and aches and pains get in the way of concentration and patience whether they’re the product of the flu or of a changing hormonal landscape. And if you feel like you’re walking through fire, it can make the human side of your job more difficult. By the time they reach menopause, women are often in a position of leadership: they need to learn how to lead diverse teams and cater to people who may have different strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Finding the bandwidth for these things can be difficult when you’re tired, sweating, and feeling foggy.
What’s more, when you’re going through menopause, these symptoms aren’t a phase. Women can experience symptoms for four or five years. Sustained pressure to perform while navigating a shifting hormonal landscape can impact the way you see your job. And for some women, the struggle can cause them to leave their field before they ever thought they would.
Hot Flashes are a Bigger Problem than You Think
You’ve heard about hot flashes or maybe you’re already going through them. They’re the one symptom of menopause that almost everyone recognizes. Some research suggests hot flashes and night sweats are one of the biggest predictors of trouble at work.
One study found that women who reported problematic hot flashes at work were more likely to stop working, even when their menopause symptoms didn’t impact their self-reported performance.
Of course, there are options for dealing with the most severe symptoms. Using bioidentical hormones and hormone replacement therapy can help women navigate menopause more comfortably. However, not all women are suitable candidates for HRT, and those who are might experience other side effects. Whether a woman chooses to seek a remedy for her symptoms is her choice, but what all women need is an open environment at work where their experiences aren’t a secret.
We Need to Talk About Menopause at Work
More than anything, we need to remove the culture of silence surrounding women’s health. Better yet, companies should have a menopause policy in addition to their maternity leave plans. Menopause isn’t a life choice: it’s inevitable at one point or another. It’s particularly important because the issue isn’t just a medical one: aging women tend to be treated as if they are both invisible and disposable as both sexism and ageism begin to impact their working lives around middle age.
What does a menopause policy look like? It can’t be a blanket solution because every woman has a different experience. It also doesn’t need to be hyper-specific for the same reason. A supportive menopause policy can simply mean an opportunity to discuss health without fear of reprisal, and low-cost supports, like flexible start hours, time off to visit the doctor, and even things like desk fans. The British Menopause Society provides helpful guidance for HR employees and line managers for empowering women experiencing menopause in the workplace.
Ultimately, women aged 45-65 are one of the largest segments of the workforce, and all of them will experience menopause, even though each will have their own experience. The symptoms of menopause and hormonal imbalances not only impact women’s perception of their work but it can also leave them vulnerable to the forces that work against them if there are no checks and balances in place. By providing demonstrable supports to women at work, we make workplaces safe to be a woman no matter what phase of life they’re in.
This guest post was authored by Magnolia Potter
Magnolia Potter is a blogger from the Pacific Northwest. She loves writing on a variety of topics from technology to lifestyle. When she isn’t writing you can find her traveling far and wide or reading a good book.