Read the full video transcript below
Hello, and welcome to my weekly video blog. And today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I’m going to be talking about menopause and work and how going through the menopause can actually affect your working life and your career. Now, we get lots of emails from women who are really struggling through the menopause, generally, and are finding that their work is actually suffering as well.
In the UK, there are approximately three million women from the ages of 49 to 59 who are in some kind of work. And of those women, probably about 75% of them will be going through the menopause at any one particular time. And I find it so extraordinary that in this day and age there is many provisions made legally for women who are pregnant at work but there is absolutely nothing, or at least I can’t find anything, that will actually be there to support women who are going through the menopause and are maybe having problems with their work.
For most of you, you will get through the menopause with maybe a few difficulties but, on the whole, you will manage. But there are a number of women who are getting really severe symptoms and these are causing a huge amount of distress. They’re finding that they’re maybe having to give up their work or maybe are having to go part time, and this is causing a whole lot of financial hardship. There’s also a number of women who, because their work is suffering because of their symptoms, are actually being threatened or bullied with the sack unless they actually pull their boots up. And I just find this absolutely appalling today.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to look at the main symptoms that you might have problems with through the menopause, what you can do regarding your company to try and make things better for you, and then what you can do for yourself in order to make the working day better for you.
So the first symptom really is fatigue. You know, this is something that we all will get during the menopause at some point or another. Falling hormones just completely drain us of energy. And for most women again, you might get fatigue occasionally. But for some women, this is going to be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are really severely fatigued, it’s going to be very difficult to find the energy to actually get out of bed, never mind spend maybe a 40 hour week actually working and then possibly having to come home and look after your family as well. So fatigue is a really big issue in problems with work.
Memory loss and concentration
We’ve got loss of memory and concentration. This is another big one, you know, especially if you’ve got a job that needs a lot of concentration. If you’re dealing with figures, if you’re lecturing, if you’re teaching people and anywhere where you’ve basically got to think on the spot, you can end up being really fearful that at some point you’re just going to forget what you’re going to say.
Loss of confidence
We’ve also got loss of confidence as well because if you find that your memory or your concentration is going, then it can be very difficult if you’re having to look after other people. If maybe you’re in a supervisory role, if maybe you’re having to actually control a group of people, then you may find that you are not confident standing up to people. You may find that even the thought of maybe a presentation or talking in front of a small amount of people can actually fill you with a lot of fear and embarrassment. It is a horrible one.
We’ve also got the hot flushes. Now, again, these can be really embarrassing in front of our colleagues and, you know, unfortunately, we tend to perceive hot flushes as being much worse than what they are. But if it’s happening in front of other people, we can start to panic. We can think, “Oh, no, everybody can see me. I don’t know what I’m going to do”. You’ve also got the fact that if you’re perspiring a lot that may actually show up on your clothes. We’ve also got the fact that, you know, we might be working with a lot of men, and we don’t actually want them to know our personal details, what’s actually going on in our lives that is causing these particular problems. So that’s added embarrassment, added anxiety on to everything else as well.
We have joint pain and this can be a real issue especially if you have a very active job. But it can also be an issue if you’re sedentary because if you’re sitting all day and not moving, then the joints can get extra stiff as well. And if you’re in a lot of pain, that’s going to impact on your energy. It’s also going to impact on how efficient you are as well.
We have bladder problems and this is another awful one. There’s nothing worse than needing to go to the toilet and finding that your bladder is really irritated and then realising that you’ve got another half hour to go of your shift and you can’t actually leave your post. It can be a difficult one if you’re out and about. Maybe you drive for a living, maybe you’re working somewhere where there’s no toilets nearby as well. And unfortunately, in the menopause, an irritated bladder and the need to go to the toilet more often is one of the more common symptoms as well.
Period changes in the peri-menopause
If you are in the peri-menopause, you may be at the point where you’re starting to get prolonged periods or you can actually get flooding as well and this can cause a lot of anxiety. You may not be able to get to the toilet to change your sanitary wear as quick as what you need to. There’s also the fear that you may actually bleed and it shows through your clothes as well. So there’s added anxiety with that too. And very often, with this particular symptom, you tend to get cramps as well and that can be very, very painful and that can disrupt your working day as well.
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What can you do?
So, what can you do to make sure that your employers are actually looking after you in the menopause? In fact, is there actually anything that you can do? Now, if you work for a big company it’s possibly going to be slightly easier.
Look at the company handbook and/or visit your HR department
You can, first of all, look at your company handbook and especially if you are being bullied, if you are being threatened in any way, then there are usually processes in the book that you can actually go through to complain about this. If it’s more to do with your environment and you’re finding that there’s not enough there to actually support you whilst you’re going through the menopause, then the best thing to do is actually go to your HR department.
Now, I would recommend that you take either a colleague or a friend with you or if you are a member of a union then ask the union rep to be present as well because especially (a) if you’re dealing with a man or (b) dealing with a younger woman, they really probably will not understand just how awful things could be for you going through the menopause. So with the HR department, you’re asking for things like, is there plenty of water? Can you access water on a regular basis and very easily? Can you maybe look at getting either extended or more toilet breaks? Because I know at some companies, you’re basically penalised if you’re seen to be running to the toilet more than usual.
Look at your working environment itself. Have you got access to open air or if you’re in a big office, which can be a real pain because everybody likes a different temperature, can you actually get a personal fan for your desk as well? Could you maybe look at flexi time especially for women who have joint pain? Very often it’s worse first thing in the morning and if you have to get up really early, it can cause lots of problems. So maybe starting work a little bit later and finishing a little bit later might help as well. So do see if the HR department can actually help you in some way.
Talk to your female colleagues
The other things you can do is, are there other female bosses within your company that you think are roughly the same age as you and maybe going through the menopause? Get them on your side. You could also think about starting up a self-help group because there’s power in numbers. And if there’s enough of you at your work who are saying, “Look, I am not happy. I am not comfortable. Please, can something be done?” then you might get more action if there’s more of you actually there as well.
If you’re working for a small company, it can be very difficult. We’ve had women contact us who, when they have complained have basically being told, “Well, if you don’t like it, you know where the door is.” So, in these cases, or if you find with your work that you are not getting the support that you need, if things are getting really out of hand, if you are maybe being threatened with the sack or a reprimand, then in the UK there is an organisation called ACAS. And ACAS deals with the legal support of employees and employers as well. So you can contact them, and I’ll leave a link for you for their website. You can contact them. You can explain your situation and they will be able to give you all the information that you need to actually move this forward in a positive way for yourself. For those of you out with the UK, most countries will have independent employee organisations. I’m sure maybe if you do a little Google, you’ll be able to find somewhere that will be able to give you some kind of support through this particular time.
Now, for self-help, what are the things that you can do to prepare yourself for the working day?
The most important thing is breakfast. It really is a case of breakfast like a king. You have got a whole day ahead of you and during the menopause, the changing hormones will drain you of energy, your nutritional needs go up. So going to work with a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, you’re gonna be wiped out before it’s even your mid-morning tea break. So get some kind of really good breakfast. Now, these sugary cereals they are no good either because they’ll just push your blood sugars up very quickly and you’ll take a really big energy dip within an hour or so. So look for a protein type breakfast. So that would be things like scrambled egg on toast, an omelette, a little bit of lean bacon, something that’s going to give you a really good nutritional hit first thing in the morning. Maybe have a little bit of vegetables like grilled tomatoes or mushrooms.
If you’re one of these people that’s going, “Oh, no, I can’t face breakfast,” then it’s still important to have something. You can get really good healthy protein powder drinks from your local health food shop. So making up one of those or having a green smoothie or something before you step out the door will really help to see you through a good part of the day. If you don’t eat well, what can happen is your blood sugars can get low very quickly and that can cause dizziness, it can cause you feeling faint, it can cause brain fog and again, it’s just going to give you total fatigue. So, you know, if there’s just one thing that you do whilst you’re working and that is just make sure that you have a very, very good, healthy breakfast.
We’ve got water, really so important at work. And this is why you need to make sure that you either have access to fresh water during the day or you can take a bottle of water with you. Now, I know that in some companies and I have been told that if you’re on somewhere like the shop floor maybe for two to three hours, you’re not allowed to take any water with you. Really, this is one of the things that you should bring up at the HR meeting. If you’re going through the menopause, if you’re getting hot flushes and sweats, you need that water. This isn’t just a simple thing. This is really serious because again, dehydration can cause faintness, it can cause dizziness, it can give you palpitations. So these are serious symptoms to be having if you’re actually out on the shop floor or if you’re dealing with members of the public as well. So make sure, if you can, that you have water with you at all times.
Toilet visits and water intake
If you can’t get to a toilet as often as you would like, then sipping water just off and on during the day is probably better for you. If you drink a big glass of water straight off, most people do find that they need to go to the toilet maybe within half an hour or so. The other thing you can do to keep your water intake up is to actually have a reasonable sized glass of water by your bedside when you go to bed so that when you wake up, the minute you sit up and put your feet on the floor, before you stand up, is to drink that glass of water because that will get the rehydration going before you’ve done anything else. And that will be one of your servings of the day as well actually over and done with.
Layer your clothes
The other thing that can often help, especially if you’re getting hot flushes and night sweats, is to try and wear layers of clothes because very often you’ll get the hot flush, you’ll get the sweat, you then find after a while you get chilled. So you can take layers off and put layers on. This may be more difficult if you have to wear a uniform because very often uniforms are made of synthetic fibers but try, in that case, to have some kind of undergarment made of cotton because that at least will help the skin to breathe better for you.
Try this for breakfast...
Poached Eggs with Spinach on Wholemeal Toast.
This high quality protein dish which is also rich in vitamin K is a wonderful healthy and filling breakfast.
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For more deliciously nutritious breakfast ideas explore A.Vogel Talks Food
Work is a big part of our lives
So I hope this has helped a little bit. It’s a huge issue. There’s so many factors here but this is one that, you know, I do feel quite passionate about because we work for an awful long time. If we’re spending five, six years going through the menopause, it’s a big chunk of our working life, and we do need to feel as comfortable and as safe as possible.
For those of you that would like more information on the employee and the employer side of things, there are a couple of really good studies*. I will give you the links. They are quite old and again, this was a surprise. When I was looking into this particular subject, I couldn’t actually find any up-to-date studies or research done on menopause and work. So if any of you out there do know of any, I would be really glad to hear about it.
Until next week...
But, you know, let me know how you get on with your work. Do you have an organisation that really supports you or are you finding it really, really difficult? So, I will look forward to seeing you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause.