Menopause in the Workplace

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Women experience significant changes at menopause which can be disruptive and create challenges in the workforce. The tides of these changes must be dealt with by both women and those who employ them. We have a "heated global crisis" (pardon the pun) because there are so many baby boomers (women born between 1946-1964) who are "hormonally challenged" and working today. In fact 6,000 women in the US reach menopause each day. That is roughly, 2 million women per year!!

To better understand and deal with these changes, we must recognize the fact that a great deal of working women prefer to never mention the "M" word in the workplace. They opt to keep a veil of secrecy surrounding their menopausal experience, even while they may be highly symptomatic during working hours. In addition, some women go to extreme measures to hide their symptoms.

Some women are tremendously embarrassed to openly talk about menopausal symptoms, because of fear of negative comments and/or ridicule associated with symptoms. And, they are also concerned about receiving criticism if they take sick leave due to symptoms. They also have encountered difficulties about bringing up the "taboo" subject of menopause at work. Communication barriers still exist, causing silence around the subject of menopause.

I’ve personally had my "can I get any hotter" stories which have caused me to become embarrassed while working as my body temperature began to rise, causing me to flush and perspire. Certainly, I know that I don’t have to work out at a gym to break out in a sweat. All of this can be quite embarrassing if you are in your place of business and you feel a flash coming on. I dress in layers, peel off the layers and run to the ladies room stripping down to the unmentionables, removing more and more clothing. I do know that I am not the only woman with a body temperature that soars without warning. It’s difficult for me to determine what the proper etiquette should be when symptoms erupt during business meetings and I want to hijack the air-conditioning unit.

There may be a connection between certain working conditions and the heightening of menopausal symptoms which render work life quite difficult for a woman going through the menopause transition. Working conditions which may aggravate menopausal symptoms include: workplace with poor ventilation, or a thermostat which is kept at a high temperature, confined spaces, stressful environments, high work demands, long hours, lack of rest breaks and restrooms that are far away, all contribute to increasing menopause-related problems in the workplace. Although improving or solving all these workplace factors may not be simple or may require sometimes significant investments, it is important to remember that being sensitive, listening to complaints and agreeing on some accommodations may allow the menopausal woman to better control her symptoms and decrease the risk of absenteeism.

Many employers lack information about menopause and how to deal with a woman within their company who is having a difficult time in the workplace due to menopausal symptoms. They may appear unsympathetic, simply because they lack knowledge and training in how to provide support and understanding to the menopausal woman.

Women in the workforce should be provided information about what to expect at menopause, how to manage its course, how to get help and advice, how to improve their working conditions and how to deal with managers who must handle personal health information. They should also be encouraged to take brisk walks outdoors at lunchtime and keep cool water at their desks.

Menopause related issues need to be addressed in policies and procedures within work places. Some consideration should be taken to provide better regulated temperatures; improved ventilation ensuring fresh air enters the workplace, more rest breaks, and providing greater understanding and support. Women need advice and support; time off for medical appointments, and, of course, less menopause jokes. They need to know that you truly care about what they are going through at menopause. Talk openly to her about what she is experiencing. Most important, listen to her and ask questions, like, how are you feeling or what can I do for you, and let her talk. Encourage open communication.

Lastly, women and employers can benefit from educational programs, like Red Hot Mamas, in the workplace to educate women and employers about menopause, its symptoms, treatments to ameliorate symptoms and discuss work-related menopausal issues and ways to improve them.