Four menopausal symptoms that impact women at work – and how to help with them

Are you struggling to work with menopausal symptoms? Menopause expert Dr Shahzadi Harper explains how employers can help.

As a menopause doctor based in central London, I have given countless talks to employers and businesses on the subject. I also speak with hundreds of women who are struggling with the side effects of the menopause on a daily basis.

There are a few things that come up that come up every time I talk to women. Here’s how I advise employers and women alike. 

It’s important to address the needs of menopausal women

With so many of us uncomfortable with discussing a topic so intimate as a woman’s menopausal symptoms, it’s key to redefine how the office and older women can work together.

This is especially important now that women account for 47% of the workforce, with 4.9 million women over 50 employed nationally.

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 pay gap won’t have been done away with for another 202 years.)

So, here are four common menopausal symptoms that can impact women at work – and how employers can help.

1) Hot flushes

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite: hot flushes. Breathable uniforms allow women to survive hot flushes in the workplace without feeling hot and sweaty – it’s not rocket science.

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. 

It’s important to remember that hot flushes, while on the surface, are not life-threatening, they can lead to some more serious problems. Which leads us on to…

2) Insomnia

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 when coupled with stress from management and the pressure to hide that anything is wrong, all this can lead to depression.

What could initially manifest as the need to keep a constant ‘to-do list’ going, can transform into 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 off the back of this.

It is becoming more and more widely accepted that flexible working hours are the future and when it comes to handling the menopause, these can be a godsend. Take regular breaks and be kind to yourself – these symptoms do pass and remember, you are a valuable member of the workforce. 

3) Loss of confidence

Sadly, one symptom that always comes up, is how women’s self-confidence is damaged as a result of menopause symptoms. And, 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. 

There are some quick-ish fixes I always recommend to counter-balance the mental strain of the menopause. Reducing alcohol intake is a big one and can have a massive effect on hot flushes and sleep. A dietary and exercise regime can also help with sleepless nights and mental health issues like anxiety. 

Taking some time to be alone can allow the body to relax, which, in turn can clear the mind of any lingering doubt, nastiness or resentment. Go for a walk and find a calm place to sit and reflect. Life seems less overwhelming that way; self-care is key.

4) Vaginal dryness

Then, there’s vaginal dryness. It’s obvious that this isn’t something to raise at the next board meeting, still, the symptoms can cause pain to women which in some cases can become unbearable.

The symptoms of menopause can be debilitating and if you find them uncomfortable to contemplate, imagine how women who experience them are feeling. The depletion of oestrogen in menopause can cause thinning hair and nails, fragile skin as well as vaginal dryness.

Luckily, vaginal dryness can be can be treated with hormone-free, natural products like those created by the YES YES Co – which I always recommend for intimate health.

Let’s begin breaking down taboos when it comes to a woman’s body; suffering pain while at work is something that needs to be addressed and if it means a few extra breaks, or a standing workstation, or an exercise ball instead of an office chair for women, then so be it.

Honest talks about menopause will benefit women AND men

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. 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.

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. This in turn will benefit women and men alike.

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 should be keen to retain their talent.

Read more about the menopause

You can read more information and advice on the menopause in these articles:

Dr Shahzadi Harper is a menopause doctor and women’s health expert working in central London. Working in the field for five years and as a doctor for 24 years, she describes the early warning signs and how to avoid needlessly suffering.

Dr Harper runs her own clinic, speaks on podcasts and at conferences on women’s health and works as a brand ambassador for The YES YES Company.

Photo by Jeanie de Klerk