The retirement age currently for a woman in the UK is 65 with the government planning to increase it to 67 over the next 10 years. This means that a woman might spend 15 plus menopausal years in the office, with a further 10 perimenopausal years before that!
It’s undeniable that 25 years is a substantial chunk of a person’s working life and few women, at least those engaged with their careers, will be planning to give it all up aged 45, particularly after spending so much time forging a skillset invaluable to their livelihood, including training courses, networking and good old-fashioned life-experience. Why then, have a quarter of women considered leaving work as a result of menopausal symptoms? And a further two-thirds of women report receiving zero support in the office environment.
The menopause is wreaking havoc on women’s careers, only 7% of FTSE 100 companies CEO’s are women. In fact there are more CEO’s called Steve than women!
So how do you negotiate the menopause at work?
Employers and employees alike are uncomfortable with discussing something so intimate as menopausal symptoms, so it’s key to redefine how the office and older women can work together. Especially now that women account for 47% of the workforce, with 3.5 million women over 50 employed nationally and growing fast in numbers. And, with more and more women taking up management positions and it being recognised that female board members have a financially positive effect, perhaps the power balance is edging towards being redressed, even if it’s estimated that the global gender pay gap won’t have been done away with for another 202 years.
As a menopause doctor based in central London, I speak with hundreds of women who are struggling with the side effects of the menopause and in particular how their self-confidence has been damaged as a result. As we all know, self-confidence is a necessary factor for maintaining any kind of presence in the office especially if you are a female employee. Women need self-confidence to ask for a promotion, to speak out in meetings and more generally, to make their voices heard.
The more well-known and ‘boring’ stereotype of hot flushes is just the tip of the iceberg!
When sleepless nights, a side-effect of hot flushes, rear their ugly heads, the knock-on effects can feel overwhelming. Memory problems and irritability follow close behind and would cause anyone to feel low, let alone when coupled with stress from management and the potential pressure to hide from them that anything might be wrong. What could manifest as the need to keep a constant ‘to-do list’ going, can also become what I call ‘brain fog’, the inability to think clearly sometimes due to insomnia. I’ve had patients come to me saying they feel as if they’re ‘losing their minds’, even asking whether they might have dementia of the back of this.
Managing menopausal symptoms
There are 34 menopausal symptoms, some are physical, and some are mental. The good news is, many of them can be lessened or controlled with the correct treatment. Remember, each woman will experience the menopause differently, but every woman will go through it. And while HRT is appropriate for some cases, other women prefer an all-natural approach.
First and foremost, I emphasise treating the menopause early, before the symptoms become overwhelming and perhaps lead to quitting a job, taking time off, missing a promotion or any of the above. Whether it’s counter-balancing some of the side-effects with quick-ish fixes, like reducing alcohol intake, which can have a massive effect on hot flushes or, a dietary and exercise regime to better handle sleepless nights and mental health issues like anxiety. Then, there are organic and hormone-free products which treat intimate health issues, the likes of which can leave a woman feeling uncomfortable, even in pain.
Changing working practices
It is becoming more and more widely accepted that flexible working hours are the future and I do hope employers during lockdown have seen how well that can work and when it comes to handling the menopause, these can be a godsend. Breathable uniforms will allow women to survive hot flushes in the workplace without passing out and feeling hot and sweaty The simple addition of fans and air conditioning can show that employers are willing to listen and with recent studies revealing that women and men run at different core temperatures anyway, it should be common sense to install systems in a functioning office that ensure all staff perform at their best. Honest dialogue about better company policies around the menopause will enable a huge section of the workforce to continue to contribute into their fifties and sixties and furthermore, would benefit everyone – women and men alike. And to disregard the knowledge and experience of staff members that may have been with the company for a significant amount of time is the definition of shooting yourself in the foot.
Good employers know that women are key to their business and are keen to retain their talent i.e. women who are highly skilled, talented and efficient at their jobs.
Get in touch
Your local GP surgery might be oversubscribed so make sure you make the most of your 10 minute appointment by downloading and filling out our Menopause symptom checker, it’s a great way to get the conversation started. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.