Seventy percent of women of menopausal age work. This means that there are approximately 2.5 million women in their 50s in the workplace. Many of these women report that the symptoms of menopause interfere with their ability to work and some report that they feel that they’re viewed as less competent due to the menopausal complications they’re experiencing.
Hot flashes are one of the most well-known symptoms of menopause. During a hot flash, intense feelings of heat radiate throughout the entire body, especially on the face, neck, and chest, and are usually accompanied by profuse sweating followed by chills.
One of the most obvious problems hot flashes pose for women in the workplace is temperature control. In an indoor workplace with little ventilation, the temperature programmed may be too high for a woman experiencing regular hot flashes. If a woman works outdoors, warm weather can intensify hot flashes, making it difficult to work. Some jobs may require fitted clothing or heavy protective equipment, which can exacerbate hot flashes and increase sweating.
Lack of Breaks
During menopause, many women report dizziness, fatigue, and an increased need to urinate. Although closing your eyes and resting may relieve these symptoms, that’s not possible in most work environments.
If you suffer from a frequent urge to urinate, you may need to visit the restroom more often than non-menopausal co-workers. However, your job may have a strict policy on breaks or you may not have adequate access to the restroom, making dealing with this symptom of menopause a challenge.
Stress and Negative Attitudes
For many women, menopause causes a great deal of stress and being at work can exacerbate stress. Heavy workloads, inflexible hours, and lack of adequate vacation time or sick days make it difficult to relax and deal with the stress caused by menopause. The physical symptoms of menopause may cause embarrassment, which can worsen feelings of stress.
Externally, women going through menopause may experience negativity, judgment, ridicule, harassment, inappropriate comments, and a general lack of understanding from others--especially male co-workers.
Many women having hormone replacement therapy for menopause experience nausea. Some cases may be mild, while others may be moderate to severe. In these cases, nausea may interfere with your ability to go to work or perform proficiently at work.
What You Can Do
While there’s no official law that addresses menopause, there is legislation that states that employers are required to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all employees. This includes women who are having a difficult time at work due to menopausal symptoms.
One of the most effective ways to overcome any barriers to understanding menopause is to communicate. Many women are embarrassed to discuss menopause, especially with male supervisors and managers. However, lack of communication and understanding can make work even more difficult.
Discuss your needs with your bosses and co-workers. You stand to gain more convenient shifts, more frequent breaks, and a more flexible schedule. Don’t be afraid to voice specific requests, like temperature control and increased ventilation in working areas.
When you address your concerns and needs with a responsive manager, it will give you a sense of support. Although the support may be informal, this feeling of security can reduce stress and improve the way you feel about going to work.
There are several things you can do outside work to improve your quality of life in the workplace. Eating a balanced diet of whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables can help increase energy, fight fatigue, and provide a general sense of well-being. Regular exercise—especially stress-reduction exercises like yoga—can help control stress levels and make the work day easier. Relaxation techniques like mediation and deep breathing are also valuable tools that can help you deal with stress in and outside the workplace.