Opening up the conversation about menopause in the workplace
Members of #TeamPhoenix share their experiences of going through the menopause, the challenges they faced in and out of the workplace, and how they believe we can all help to overcome them.
More than one million people have left their jobs due to symptoms of the menopause that have negatively impacted their performance at work or affected their confidence, according to CIPD research.
Menopause is rarely discussed openly in the workplace and without an effective policy to protect and care for those experiencing it, accomplished, talented people are leaving their roles prematurely – something which could be avoided if the proper support was put in place.
In an open discussion, Jayne Goddard, Operations Manager and Rachel Pickering, Operations Co-ordinator explore the subject of menopause in the workplace and explain why we must stop viewing it as a taboo topic in order to fully support those going through it.
How has the menopause affected you?
Jayne Goddard: “I was told about 10 years ago that I was in the early stages of menopause (perimenopause). I didn’t think much of it at the time as the symptoms were not initially that bad, but then it hit and the last year has been hard. I feel I have lost who I am. Often I’m down, tired, and feel anxious and day to day can be a struggle. I have good days and bad days, at first I thought I was suffering with some form of mental illness.”
Rachel Pickering: “The menopause can affect you in many ways. At first I didn’t realise I was going through it, I genuinely thought I was just losing my mind and not understanding what was happening physically to my body. It started when I was around 43 and it wasn’t until I was 46 that I understood that everything I had experienced during those first couple of years was in fact perimenopause. I feel like the menopause crept up on me; I wasn’t expecting it at that stage of my life. In fact, looking back I didn’t know when I should have expected it!
“It’s hard to explain in words what a difficult period of your life it can be, how up and down you can be from one moment to the next. You feel as though only those who have experienced it are able to fully understand it.”
How do you think the menopause impacted your role at work?
Rachel: “I really struggled at work with my mood – I’d suddenly feel the need to cry for no apparent reason and I can remember times I was definitely out of character.
“The fluctuations in body temperature were difficult to manage too and it really impacted on how I felt sometimes. I didn’t want to be underdressed for the office and having the air con on in winter isn’t ideal for your colleagues, but thankfully I was able to get a small desk fan, which really helped.”
Jayne: “For me, the symptoms of the menopause brought with them feelings of frustration and a loss of identity, which are really difficult to deal with while trying to function in your daily life, and this can affect your work. But it’s not just me that it affects, it’s the people around me too. I don’t feel like me, it’s like there’s someone different in my body and I want them to leave.
“I have shared what I’m going through with my family, friends, and colleagues, but it’s not easy to understand when you don’t live it daily. I don’t expect people to fully understand, but I do feel that there’s an ignorance about the subject because it’s not spoken about enough, which is sad.”
How do you think that menopause can be better addressed in the workplace to support those going through it?
Rachel: “Having a platform at work to highlight the effects of the menopause and talk about it to everyone within the company – even those that won’t experience it – helps everyone to understand the symptoms, the challenges, and how to support someone who is going through it. It should absolutely not be taboo – it should be understood, and it should not be ignored.
“I often wonder ‘Is menopause an illness? Is it treated like an illness? Should it be?’, and that is one of the biggest issues – it is not something that’s viewed as debilitating and we’re not specifically told about it or encouraged to discuss it openly. We should be aware of the effects of it; we should talk about it openly; we should talk to our friends, our relatives, and our colleagues about it. It will happen to more than half the population and each experience is personal and unique, but just talking about it – particularly with the next generation – is a positive step forward in my mind.”
Jayne: “I think we need to hear much more about menopause in general to ensure that we don’t feel alone in it or embarrassed about it. It’s a fact of life that people go through it and there is no way to avoid it.”
Have you got any advice from your experience you’d like to share with people going through the menopause right now?
Jayne: “I always thought that I would go through it without medication to ease the symptoms and just live with it, but the reality is that it’s not easy at all. I am now on medication and some of my symptoms have improved, but you have to give them time to work.
“I have also tried yoga, which has helped slightly and treated myself to a white noise machine for the side of my bed that plays all sorts of calming sounds to help me relax. My advice would be, don’t walk this part of life alone. Life is too short, so share your stories. I used to be embarrassed, but I’m not anymore.”
Rachel: “I agree with Jayne – for those going through this, please don’t suffer in silence. Don’t feel like you have to hide your symptoms like I did or pretend everything is fine when it isn’t. Take control – talk to a colleague, your manger, or your HR team. Share your experience and let’s break the taboo surrounding menopause together.”
*It is also important to talk to your doctor about any medical concerns you may have as the suggested resources are only intended to provide further support in addition to seeking medical advice.