At least one-third of women struggle to cope at work during their menopausal transition.
And a recent UK survey revealed that a quarter of symptomatic menopausal women felt unhappy and unsupported in their work, so much so that one in five of them were considering quitting their jobs entirely.
That’s why finding strategies to cope at work is so important. After all, this natural transition in our lives shouldn’t have to come at the expense of our careers.
When my own menopause symptoms were at their worst, I was dealing with debilitating brain fog and fatigue on a daily basis. And for a while, it really began to impact my work as a medical writer. I simply couldn’t focus on my writing in the same way I used to, and for a while, I worried that my career might never recover.
Yet, thankfully, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I found ways to manage my symptoms of menopause at work, and find some much needed relief.
So, are you feeling the pressure of balancing your working life with your menopausal transition? Are you worried that your performance is starting to suffer, and you’re not sure where to turn?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone, and help is out there. In this post, I’ll share some tips on how to cope during the toughest days and what to do if you feel like menopause is interfering with your career.
But first, let’s explore some of the ways that working through menopause can present challenges.
Working Through Menopause
This makes menopause one of the most significant occupational health issues in the US. But despite its prevalence, many of us don’t get the help and support we need.
This is partly because menopause is still considered taboo, especially in the workplace. And so, unfortunately, most women choose not to disclose their symptoms to their managers.
This is particularly true for low-skilled workers, but even women with executive roles and supportive managers may not feel comfortable discussing such a personal issue, especially if those managers are male.
Most often, our colleagues and managers have no idea what women are experiencing. And for many women, keeping quiet comes with consequences. Some women are forced to take unpaid time off work, cut down to part-time hours, or quit the workforce entirely.
Back when I first entered perimenopause, I was working as a medical writer for a wellness clinic. And despite my extremely supportive manager and colleagues, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my menopause related burdens with the rest of my team.
Instead, I bottled up my worries and tried to battle through alone. But looking back, I know I should have spoken up. My work was beginning to suffer, and the insomnia I was already experiencing was made much worse due to worrying about my lack of productivity in the office.
So now, I make it my mission to ensure that other women don’t feel the need to bury their struggles in the same way that I did. There is so much help and support out there, and below, I’ll show you how to find it.
5 tips for Managing Menopause Symptoms at Work
It’s clear that menopause can be a tough time for women in the workforce. But thankfully, there are several things that can make your working life easier.
1. Visit Your Doctor
If menopause symptoms are affecting your ability to do your job, the first and most important step is to visit your doctor. They can assess your symptoms, rule out any other underlying causes, and suggest a treatment plan that works for you.
Many women find relief with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This works by boosting lagging hormones, which cause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and insomnia. HRT is not without risk, however, so it’s important to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor before initiating this treatment.
Besides prescribing medicine, your doctor may also suggest other treatment strategies. For example, they might recommend you drop a day in the office each week or change your working duties to better suit your needs.
2. Talk to Your Manager or HR Department
Being armed with official medical advice from your doctor can help you feel more confident and able to advocate for yourself at work.
However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a supportive boss that they feel comfortable sharing personal details with. But it’s important to let your manager know that you’re struggling. You don’t even have to use the “m” word. Simply saying you’re having frequent hot flashes should be enough to make it clear that you’re going through ‘the change.’
But before you have the conversation, it’s a good idea to come prepared. Consider how your symptoms affect your work performance, and let your manager know. For example, are brain fog and fatigue making it hard to finish reports on time? Do regular hot flashes mean you need frequent fresh air breaks to cool down, taking you away from your desk?
Then, consider any adjustments that could be reasonably made to make your working day easier. Certain changes, such as a desk fan or cooler air conditioning, can make you feel more comfortable. This will also increase your productivity at work- a win-win for everyone.
Adjustments to your working week may also help. For example, negotiating a later start time in the mornings or working from home one or two days a week.
If your doctor has given you any specific advice that relates to your working day, be sure to share this information with your manager, too.
And if your company also has an HR department, it’s a good idea to relay this information to them. That way, any absences from work can be assessed as part of an ongoing health issue rather than separate instances of sickness.
After struggling with brain fog and fatigue at work for many months myself, I finally plucked up the courage to speak to my boss and explain how my symptoms were affecting my performance. As a result, I was able to start working from home more often, which made a huge difference to both my productivity and my confidence. I only wish I’d spoken up sooner.
3. Reach Out to a Trusted Coworker
Having office allies you can share your struggles with can help you feel more supported and understood at work. You may even find that you’re not the only one suffering from menopause-related symptoms.
Sharing difficult experiences with your coworkers can foster a more empathetic and compassionate working environment. It’s incredible how opening up about this topic can overcome barriers, break the taboo of menopause, and create a more inclusive workplace culture for everyone.
4. Be Your Own Support
While your manager and colleagues should support you the best they can, you must advocate for your own needs.
So, take a practical look at the hurdles you face at work every day. If hot flashes are making you miserable, buy a desk fan, switch to light, comfortable, and moisture-wicking office wear, and keep a pitcher of ice water beside you to help you cool off.
If sleep changes and fatigue are causing you to crash in the afternoon, set an alarm and walk away from your desk for 10 minutes. Take a walk outside, and have a healthy snack to boost your energy supplies. I found that taking a break from my screen helped me feel much more energized, and gave me the lift I needed to power through the rest of my working day.
I also used technology to help improve my performance at work. For example, when brain fog caused me to forget important dates and appointments, I set up reminders on my phone. I also used my phone’s notes function to write down important topics that were discussed in meetings. I found it really helpful to refer back to them at a later date to jog my memory when I needed it most.
5. Get Healthy
Certain lifestyle changes can significantly improve your health and reduce the severity and frequency of menopause symptoms.
Research shows that women who are overweight or obese suffer from more hot flashes and night sweats than women with a healthy body mass index. So, if you need to lose a few lbs, now is the time to get started.
Changing your diet is the most important component of weight loss. Cut out unnecessary sugar and ultra-processed foods. Sugar not only causes weight gain, it also contributes to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Plus, it increases the chances of developing chronic disease. Ultra-processed foods also exacerbate many of the symptoms of menopause and leave you feeling more fatigued, depressed, and lethargic.
Focus on eating whole foods such as lean protein and fresh vegetables. Even if you don’t need to lose weight, eating this way can leave you feeling more energized, less stressed, and more able to succeed at work.
Exercise can also help you to beat the symptoms of menopause. Regular workouts increase your brain’s production of the happy hormone serotonin. This can help stave off stress, anxiety, and depression, which are all more common during menopause.
And of course, regular exercise also helps you to maintain a healthy weight and keep your muscles strong. According to the CDC, most women should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, every week.
How Can Employers Help?
Unfortunately, many companies still don’t offer enough support to their employees going through menopause.
Here are some changes that I’d personally love to see in the workplace.
A Breakdown of the Taboos Surrounding Menopause
Fostering a culture where women can speak openly about this natural phase of life would mean we no longer feel compelled to suffer in silence.
Increased Menopause Awareness
If the topic were more frequently discussed, employers would be more aware of the symptoms of menopause and how they affect employee performance. Then, helpful working policies could be put into place.
Access to Support
Women make up almost half of the workforce. So, companies are likely to have multiple women going through perimenopause and menopause at any one time. Setting up regular support groups for these women would help employees feel less isolated and more understood.
More Job Flexibility
The pandemic has shown that working from home can be hugely beneficial for both employees and employers. And many women find that working from home helps them to cope with the symptoms of menopause.
If employers offered more flexible working arrangements, such as working from home or flexi-time, many more women would be able to remain in work. This was a lifeline for me, and I wish more women had the option.
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) promotes health and quality of life for all women going through menopause. This includes supporting women in the workplace. They have a wealth of educational materials and information available to browse through. Plus, there’s a supportive online community that anyone is welcome to join.
Some employers also offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs can provide job-focused support for all kinds of life transitions, including menopause. Not all companies offer this service, so check with your HR department to see what’s available to you.
If your boss or company is discriminating against you due to menopause symptoms, you may be able to challenge them in a court of law. Each state has its own employment laws in America, and you are also protected under US federal law.
Many women prefer to take a more natural approach to treating their menopause symptoms. If this is you, there are plenty of options out there that have been shown to help.
Foods and supplements containing phytoestrogens are particularly effective. They can reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia. Examples include soy and soy products, and black cohosh, red clover, and dong quai supplements.
Menopause symptoms can be challenging enough on their own. But when you’re forced to battle through the working week while suffering from frequent hot flashes, debilitating fatigue, and crippling brain fog, it can feel like fighting an unwinnable war.
But don’t give up hope. There are plenty of ways to mitigate the challenges that working during menopause can bring. Some of them involve being open and honest with your employer and asking them to support you during this transitional time. Other strategies that can help include switching up your diet and lifestyle to better manage your symptoms and finding new ways of coping when symptoms do arise.
Remember, issues such as hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia are only temporary. Eventually, your hormones will settle down, and you’ll find relief. In the meantime, reaching out for support and prioritizing self-care can help you journey through menopause with more comfort and ease.