Regular contributor Barbara Mark, PhD, takes on the challenges of dealing with the signs of perimenopause and menopause in the workplace.
In the year 2018 there are about 31 million women in the US workforce who are between the ages of 45 and 64. Eighty percent of these women will experience symptoms related to perimenopause. Of that 80 percent, about 25 percent will experience symptoms so severe that they will consider quitting their jobs.
“Of that 80 percent, about 25 percent will experience symptoms so severe
that they will consider quitting their jobs.”
There’s nothing blissful about ignorance
Many of us don’t know enough about menopause to know how to best prepare ourselves so that it’s more manageable. We don’t know what perimenopause is, and we don’t know how to identify what’s happening when it starts. So of course, we don’t know how to manage the symptoms we’re experiencing when we’re in perimenopause.
Not knowing all this is truly terrible, since some of the symptoms are scary enough to make women think they have a serious medical problem.
You might ask: Why is this important and what is all the fuss about? Based on information from my own clients – women in professional/corporate positions – and from women who have participated in research I’ve been doing, women are having a really difficult time of it. If this is you, here is some useful information.
Things to know about perimenopause & menopause
- All those born with a uterus go through menopause.
- Perimenopause can start as early as your late thirties. It usually lasts a few years – maybe 3 or 4. However, if it starts early, it may be over a decade.
- Some women who have certain medical conditions and treatments experience peri/menopause very early.
- The symptoms can include any or all of our body’s systems; the most typical symptoms are hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, irritability that can escalate to absolute rage, big mood swings, lack of ability to concentrate, poor memory, frustration, lack of libido, heart palpitations, migraines – just to name a few.
- Our hormones levels – primarily estrogen – are dipping. And because estrogen is located in most of our bodily systems, we can experience some pretty unnerving things!
Added to this, we live in a very youth-obsessed culture and there is a lot of gendered ageism that women experience. Nothing says “old woman” like menopause in the minds of people in our communities and workplaces – including in our own minds!
As a result, there is a big stigma attached to being perimenopausal/menopausal. Most professional women, especially women not in any kind of healthcare organization, are loathe to have anyone know that they are experiencing symptoms.
(Feel like you’ve been hit by a perfect storm of menopause and life stuff? Read all about what’s happening and why from Barbara Mark.)
Many women who have a difficult time with symptoms are often seen by their teams/direct reports, their peers and their bosses as not performing well in any number of ways. This can be very damaging to your career.
What is a woman to do? Well, instead of hiding out and suffering in silence, take care of yourself.
Little things can make a big difference:
- Be mindful of how you dress – dress in layers
- Don’t wear silk anything – dresses, blouses, scarfs – as silk holds in body heat. When you’re feeling cold, that’s great. When you are having a hot flash, it can be a disaster.
- If you are doing a presentation, always have a glass of ice water handy. It is great to hold in your hand if you are experiencing your own little microclimate hot spell, as it can help to cool you down. Also, sip the water to cool yourself from the inside out.
- Stay away from spicy foods and coffee as they will tend to bring on hot flashes.
- Get a small, battery-operated fan for your desk.
- Try to find someone you can talk to: an understanding manager – perhaps an understanding HR professional – female or male. (Don’t forget that men have mothers and may have wives or girlfriends who have experienced what you talking about! Many of them ”get it.”) Ask about some flexibility in your schedule so that you can come in late if you’ve had a sleepless night or work from home if irritability has you trapped in a volatile state.
- You may at least want to give some people a “heads-up” so they understand that you are experiencing something normal and natural rather than thinking that you have become a problem employee.
Times are changing and some companies (or at least individuals within companies) are aware that menopause is “a thing” and deserves consideration just as pregnancy, family illness, or other crises do. This doesn’t make you a bad person! It is a temporary state of being with an end point (and yes, there’s an end point, thank goodness).
In the meantime, some of us are going into corporations to create awareness and support options. Also, turn to genneve for lots of information about what you may be experiencing and how to address the symptoms. We are here for you!
How are you handing the signs of peri/menopause at work? Is your workplace pretty open and accommodating, or are you hiding in the supply closet for every hot flash? Let us know in the comments below, on genneve’s Facebook page, or in our closed Facebook group, Midlife & Menopause Solutions
Also by Barbara Mark: why midlife should be “me time” and how to make it so, and the stunning similarities between adolescence and “middlescence.”