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Menopause at work

by Sonia Chartier, on 31 March 2017, Menopause, Women's Health
menopause at work

I’m sure you’ve read the articles in the press about how many working days are lost through women being off work as a result of menopause symptoms, and also how many women are struggling either because their symptoms are affecting their work or their colleagues or bosses are unsympathetic to their plight…

Menopause and the workplace

Working for a wonderful company in a female-dominant field where we get great support for all kinds of health problems, I naively thought that it would be the same in every workplace. How wrong I was! I was really shocked to discover what some women have to put up with.

Most women will go through menopause without too much trouble, but for some it can be a really miserable time. It can be really hard to cope with the following issues while trying to be efficient and energetic at work.

What symptoms might affect you in the workplace?

Menopause can cause the following problems and make work life difficult:

  • Fatigue: For some women, this isn’t just about being a little tired, but rather, completely worn out day and night, seven days a week.
  • Poor memory or loss of concentration: This can be really challenging, especially if you have to be on the ball at work, or if you’re a boss or supervisor yourself. Many women tell me that they now find talking to their colleagues or giving presentations a nightmare, as they’re afraid they’ll lose their train of thought at some point and end up looking foolish.
  • Embarrassment: This can stem from having hot flashes in front of colleagues. After all, no woman really wants to tell the whole office or shop floor that they’re going through menopause, especially if there are a lot of men around. It’s already bad enough having to deal with the constant ‘that time of the month’ jokes!
  • Some women experience physical symptoms such as joint or muscle pain, and if your job is physically demanding or you’re on your feet all day, it can be really hard to keep going.
  • A weak bladder: This is a really common symptom that keeps you running to the bathroom all the time, which may not be an option for you due to your shift or if you’re in a job that involves travelling or driving.
  • Perimenopause can also cause issues such as prolonged or heavy bleeding, which means you have to keep changing your pads or tampons, not to mention worrying about leaking in front of colleagues. Also, some women get severe cramps which can be physically debilitating.

I’ve had a number of women tell me that their boss is very unsympathetic to their situation, even threatening to fire them if they don’t improve. And this isn’t just from male bosses—I’m appalled at how clueless many younger women can be!

So what can you do if you’re having a really tough time at work or you feel that your boss is discriminating against you or has a negative attitude toward your situation?

If you work for a big company:

The first thing to do is refer to your company’s policies/handbook for guidance on how to discuss problematic issues.

Then go and see your Human Resources (HR) manager and explain how you’re feeling and how your symptoms are affecting your work. Ask if you can have a meeting with your boss, accompanied by an HR representative. I know that having to speak to a boss about your menopausal symptoms, especially if he’s a man, can be extremely daunting and embarrassing, so having a mediator with you can be a real help. To be honest, most men and younger women really have no idea about menopause, so they may actually appreciate a little education on the matter!

What can you ask of your company?

Your company may need to consider flexible working patterns and allow female staff to take longer or more frequent toilet breaks.

Does your company have other female managers to whom you can turn and seek guidance from? If there are a large number of women of menopausal age in your workplace, perhaps it be beneficial to create a support group.

Considering the work environment may prove beneficial. For example, maybe room temperatures can be adjusted when women are suffering badly from hot flashes and sweats. Are there adequate drinking water supplies? If wearing a uniform is required, can it be adjusted or partly removed, and do women have the opportunity and the appropriate facilities to change clothes during the day?

If you work for a small company, it can be more difficult to get your message across, but it’s really important that you have a voice and that you are not threatened in any way. If you feel that you need more advice, you can contact an organization such as EASNA, a North American employee assistance association, or if you work for the federal government, you can get in touch with someone through Health Canada’s Employee Assistance Program. Most provinces have their own programs like these; search the Web for one near you.

Is there anything you can do to help yourself?

Yes, fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself so that your work day goes more smoothly.

  • Having a good breakfast is really important during menopause. Your nutritional needs require attention, especially in the morning. We know that low blood sugar levels can trigger hot flashes, so eating well is a must to get your day off to a good start. Avoid sugary breakfast cereals, which can cause your blood sugar to spike very quickly and leave you feeling hungry and edgy. Instead, have a protein-based breakfast such as scrambled eggs or an omelette with tomatoes or mushrooms, or some plain yogurt with nuts, seeds and berries. If you feel that you can’t eat a lot for breakfast, try a protein powder shake; just make sure it’s low in sugar and doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners.
  • Dehydration can be a big issue at work, as it can trigger hot flashes and anxiety and cloud your mind. To get things rolling the minute you wake up, have a big glass of warm water to hydrate your body. If your job keeps you from getting to the bathroom whenever you want, then sip water slowly and often, rather than drinking a whole glass in one go, which can often make you need to urinate soon after. Try to drink water rather than caffeine or carbonated drinks, as these can dehydrate you further.
  • If you tend to sweat a lot at work, dress in layers so you can remove some if you get hot. And try to wear natural fibres such as cotton; synthetics don’t let the skin breathe as much, so you’ll end up feeling wet and clammy after a hot flash.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? If so, how did you resolve it?

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