At the time of menopause, the work culture and the way organisations deal with the employee going through the phase plays a big part, says Sonica Aron.
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.
- About eight in ten menopausal women are currently 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% of women stop work altogether because of their severe menopausal symptoms.
Research has shown that the more frequently women reported experiencing menopause-related symptoms with some women being misdiagnosed as suffering from mental ill-health or other conditions. This led to their less engagement to the work with the higher their intention to quit their job.
The onset of menopausal symptoms in women affects the organisations they work in, as they are not ready to take responsibilities. 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
Menopause has traditionally been seen as a private matter or sidelined as 'women’s issue.'
It is certainly not a topic which is discussed openly, or considered in the design of workplaces and working practices.
The phase brings with it physical changes to the body and for many women can cause physical and psychological symptoms.
For some women, the symptoms get worse, while others improve as they transition through menopause. But it is a critical life phase for intervention.
Many women have reported that workplace environments and practices made their symptoms worse.
Women have reported barriers like male-dominated workplaces, male line managers, fear of negative responses, stigma, discrimination, embarrassment, or co-workers who believed that menopause is inappropriate to discuss at work.
It's time to 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. So for this, every woman should come forward.
What is the solution?
Both individuals and organisations need to take steps.
1. Dress comfortably. Your attire should keep you cool and comfortable.
2. Practice deep breathing, one-minute silence and similar activities that can help you manage stress at work.
3. Instead of waiting until your lunch break to grab a bite to eat, choose healthy snacks to munch on throughout the day.
4. Find a friend at workplace or a female supervisor with whom you can share your menopause symptoms to reduce stress and make you feel better.
5. Some women quickly dehydrate during menopause, due to hot flashes and night sweats. So stay hydrated and drink at least eight to ten glasses of water a day.
6. If the symptoms of menopause continue to impact your quality of life, even with these menopause management tips, seek medical help.
7. Let your HR and manager know that you need help and flexibility.
Always remember that menopause is normal and happens to every woman. It happens to men too and is called andropause.
How organisational policy and culture can play an active part
There should be a menopause policy as maternity 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 should create an environment where women feel confident enough to raise issues about their symptoms and ask for adjustments at work.
The policy 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 benefit program to include alternative therapies to women who are seeking these therapies for managing the menopausal symptoms but cannot afford them.
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.
Most important, an open dialogue needs to be established, so employees aren't placed under further stress by trying to conceal menopause symptoms. This can be done together by taking help from everyone.
Sonica Aron is founder and managing partner, Marching Sheep, an HR consulting firm. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.