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But with the right help and some useful coping strategies, you can feel supported in your role while adapting to your body’s changes.
Feeling supported by your employer while you’re going through the menopause can be crucial for managing it in a healthy way. The symptoms that develop as hormone levels change can be persistent, and often, unpredictable. We’re looking at some of the ones that typically affect women, and the things you can do to ensure you’re getting the right support in your role.
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These are a common symptom while you’re transitioning from perimenopause to menopause. Hot flushes feel like heat is spreading through your body, and they often last for a few minutes. They can make you appear flushed across your face and chest. If you let your senior staff know about your hot flushes, you can work together to implement changes to make you more comfortable when they occur. Wearing clothing that keeps you cool or requesting a fan can prevent you feeling too warm, and you can keep a diary to stay on top of things that might trigger this symptom.
During the menopause, oestrogen levels drop significantly. Progesterone and testosterone levels also drop, and these hormonal changes can cause tiredness and, eventually, fatigue. If you’re feeling fatigued at work, you might need to make some adjustments. Tiredness can obviously prevent you getting things done, so it’s advisable you let your manager know the reasons you’re not feeling 100%.
Getting the right amount of restful sleep, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet can all help boost your energy levels when you’re feeling run-down.
Another common menopause symptom is ‘brain fog’ — a feeling of forgetfulness that might make it difficult to concentrate at work. During perimenopause, numerous oestrogen-regulated systems such as sleep, sensory processing and thermoregulation (maintaining body temperature) are disrupted. These can all impact cognitive function, so it’s common to experience concentration and memory-related problems.
It’s best to be open about the difficulties that memory problems are causing you at work. If you’re struggling with certain tasks, you could try having a one-to-one with your manager to explain how menopause is affecting your ability to carry them out. You can create an action plan, which might involve prioritising other tasks you feel more able to manage.
Symptoms to look out for include:
Nighttime hot flushes (night sweats) can interrupt your sleep, which doesn’t help matters if you’re experiencing low moods and a lack of energy throughout the day. Talking about changes in your mood can sometimes be a challenge, but shouldn’t be a taboo. Speaking privately to a senior member of staff about how the menopause is making you feel is a healthy way of managing the issue discreetly, and asking for whatever support you need.
If your mood changes feel unmanageable, you might need to discuss your mental health with your GP. They can give you practical advice about how to improve things (including sleep), and might recommend some blood tests to get a better overall picture of your health.
During the menopause, it’s common to gain weight. Excess body fat can usually show up in different areas of your body, like your thighs and hips, but when your weight increases as the result of lowered oestrogen levels, it tends to show up around your abdomen.
Although you might think weight gain is a personal issue that your employer can’t help out with, there are ways they can help staff members who want to reduce their calorie intake. Rather than feeling singled out for your own weight management, you can encourage your senior staff and colleagues to promote healthier eating at work. This could be changes to your canteen’s food selection, or requesting provided snacks like crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks to be replaced with fruits, nuts, and water.
As well as trying to eat a more balanced diet, your manager might be able to help make your commute to work healthier. Some companies offer cycle-to-work schemes, or you could walk or jog to work and use their facilities to shower before you begin.
The menopause starts when, because of a natural decline in hormones, women stop getting their period. Officially, ‘menopause’ is confirmed when there have been no menstrual bleeds for 12 consecutive months, but symptoms can begin years before then. (This period of time before you’re officially menopausal but you’re experiencing symptoms is called ‘perimenopause’.) ‘All in’ – counting perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause – it typically lasts for around 7 years, although it’s been known to continue for longer for some women. Factors like race, ethnicity, and lifestyle can contribute to how long you experience the menopause for and how it affects you.
The typical age it starts is between 45 and 55, which is obviously a period when the majority of people are in full-time work.
Menopause symptoms can be persistent, and there’s no telling when you’ll experience them throughout the day. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a treatment that boosts your hormone levels, can relieve symptoms like hot flushes and tiredness. If you’re thinking about starting HRT treatment, you should discuss it with your doctor first as it’s not suitable for everyone. Women with a history of cancer or blood clots, or those with untreated high blood pressure, might be advised against using it.
There are alternative options for anyone that can’t start HRT. Antidepressants, non-hormonal medications and lifestyle changes (such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake) can all help with menopause symptoms. Whichever treatment you decide to use, you still need to feel supported at work. Not getting the right support might make you feel like you need to take time off or reduce your hours, which can have a negative impact both mentally and financially.
Identifying your menopause symptoms is a useful way of explaining the effect they have on you while you’re at work. It can also make things easier for your manager (particularly if they’re not familiar with the menopause) to understand when you’re asking for help. Below are some of the most common; because menopause symptoms vary person-to-person, you might find that you’re experiencing some we’ve not covered. But if these symptoms are interfering with your usual work patterns, you can try and get support in the same ways we’ve suggested.
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It’s reasonable to ask your employer to make helpful alterations in your working environment, especially if your menopausal symptoms are preventing you from doing your job as well as you can.
There are specific changes you can request, depending on which symptoms you’re experiencing. If you wear a uniform at work, you could ask to wear a lighter version of it (or skip it altogether) if hot flushes are making you overheat. You could also try and make sure you’re getting a constant supply of cool air, by working near a window or asking your employer to supply a fan.
If brain fog and concentration symptoms are persistent, you might want to think of workarounds. Setting alarms on your phone and using apps could be a good way of staying organised if you know you’re likely to forget important meetings or deadlines.
Support when you’re going through the menopause can come in many forms. It might be useful to think about resources outside of work that you can take advantage of. Social media groups can introduce you to women in a similar position as you, and you might find it cathartic to share your experiences.
Menopause Cafes, which are casual environments where you can have conversations about menopause over a cup of tea, are pop up events held across the country. Here you can meet like-minded people who are going through the same hormonal changes you are. There are lots of empowering and educating events aimed at dispelling myths surrounding the menopause, as well as yoga classes that are built around the needs of menopausal women.
The things you do outside of your role can have a big impact on how you feel when you’re at work. As well as exercising and engaging with other menopausal women, you should try to eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients that will help keep your energy levels ticking over.
If you feel like your manager isn’t supportive when it comes to your menopause symptoms and how you’re coping with them at work, there are things you can do. Pointing senior members of staff towards resources about the menopause is a positive way of educating them about how hormonal changes affect women during work. According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), a charity that aims to improve people’s health at work, managing issues like the menopause are rarely discussed in the workplace when compared to more commonly discussed subjects such as pregnancy.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking about your menopause symptoms with staff, your work might have an occupational health services department that can review your organisation’s policies regarding menopause.
Advice on the menopause.
What is Menopause?
How to Combat Menopausal Brain Fog.
Perimenopause as a Neurological Transition State.” Nature Reviews Endocrinology, vol. 11, no. 7, 26 May 2015, pp. 393–405.
Menopause and Your Mental Wellbeing.
Menopause and the Workplace.
Overview - Hormone Replacement THerapy.
Menopause and Weight Gain.
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