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  • Katy Regan

Negotiating the menopause at work: a pragmatic approach

For too long, the menopause has been considered a taboo subject both socially and professionally. Thankfully, this is beginning to change. Open discussions about menopause are now more common, reflecting a broader cultural shift towards understanding and supporting women's health issues.


This change is crucial for women in the workplace. And this shift is not just about creating a more comfortable atmosphere; it's about acknowledging the significant impact the menopause can have on women's professional lives. Symptoms such as sleep disturbances, cognitive changes and hot flushes can affect performance and well-being. The Fawcett Society’s 2022 ‘Women and the Workplace’ study, reported that one-in-ten women leave their jobs due to menopause symptoms, with many others reducing their hours or passing up promotions.


High pressure work scenarios


Picture of Anna Allerton
Anna Allerton, Executive Coach

Managing high-stress environments can become significantly more difficult during menopausal symptoms. Increased anxiety, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating can undermine confidence and clarity. For those of us engaged in high-pressure scenarios at work - such as negotiation - this can hit hard when our mental acuity and emotional stability are derailed.


We spoke to Executive Coach Anna Allerton, a specialist in workplace transformation, culture change and retention of female talent in the workplace. Through her work, Anna empowers women to take control of their own health, helping them navigate the perimenopause and menopause in their working lives. 



How to manage the impact of symptoms at work


We asked Anna what advice and guidance she recommends for women like us - regularly exposed to high work pressure, but keen to continue to thrive in the jobs we love.


1. Identify your symptoms


“It's important to recognise the menopause is not a one-size-fits-all” explains Anna. “Some women might be debilitated by their symptoms, while others feel they can either kick back or push forward, really defining what they want out of life and their career.

 

“The first step to self-help starts with awareness. Start by logging your symptoms and mapping your cycle. Does your anxiety ramp up at a certain time? Is your brain-fog more noticeable in certain situations – such as that high-pressure negotiation for example?

A woman consulting her doctor

“When you know the patterns of your symptoms, you can take action which feels empowering. You can also see the true picture. This is critical because one of the things fluctuating hormones can do is alter your perceptions. Women can experience feelings like: I’m rubbish at my job, everyone thinks so; I look like an idiot in this meeting because I keep forgetting things. Many mistakenly identify this as impostor syndrome, when really, it’s a raised awareness of self-doubt. This is why logging symptoms and emotional patterns can really help to determine how you perceive yourself.

 

“Armed with this data you can begin to make changes to the way you work to reduce or even avoid exposure to certain stressors. This is critical because the last thing you need at this time, is more stress!“


2. Seek medical support and attention


 “Your first port of call if you are having symptoms which are troubling you should be to seek medical advice” says Anna. “This is so important for correct diagnosis and treatment. The British Menopause Association has a comprehensive list of accredited doctors to help you find the right people for information and support.”


3. Embrace the opportunity to make changes


 “When they enter menopause, often women are holding senior roles, and/or on an upward trajectory in their career,” explains Anna. “So, I tend to say - embrace this time. It is an excellent opportunity to do some self-reflection; to really understand what’s serving you and your needs and desires at work, and what is not. It can be an ideal time to identify what you can change for the better.”


4. Be accountable for taking action


 “There are three priorities I really focus on with clients” says Anna.

1.     What is the challenge?

2.     What can you change?

3.     How can you be accountable for making those changes?


Two women working looking at computer

“Navigating the menopause at work is about taking action, not just therapy. That means making good choices with nutrition and exercise but also asking yourself things like: do I often get an afternoon slump? If so, can I get my presentations done in the morning while I'm still fresh, leaving my emails to the afternoon when I find it’s harder to concentrate?

 

“Put simply, being accountable is largely about identifying triggers for your symptoms and trying to eliminate or soften them, so they don't have such an extreme impact.”


5. Exercise self-compassion


“We can be our own worst enemy at this time in our lives, when actually what we need is to be our own champion”, explains Anna.

 

”We've got a lot going on. We might be looking after kids, we may have caring responsibilities for parents - all on top of our professional responsibilities. Better to make peace with the fact we are going to drop a few balls, rather than focusing on perceived failures.”


6. Set boundaries - and keep to them


“There is often a disregard for boundaries in the workplace today”, reflects Anna. “It’s WhatsApp groups still firing after 7pm, emails coming in 24/7. We need to try to push back on that culture because it’s not sustainable and leads to burnout and overwhelm. It can also lead to a people-pleasing response, which is a common way menopausal women mask their symptoms at work. All of which has a negative mental impact.

Woman doing yoga

“Boundaries are vital”, continues Anna. “They can be anything from stipulating your working hours; to how you want to be contacted. Boundaries also feed into accountability. It’s no good thinking I just sent that email at 10pm because I was sitting on the sofa anyway, because that switches your brain onto work mode, when you should be preparing yourself for a restful sleep.

 

“Non-negotiables, too (part of good boundaries) feed into your core values. So, one non-negotiable might be I have to go to yoga on a Tuesday night, it’s so important for my wellbeing, so I need to leave at 4.30pm. What midlife really affords us is this ability to cut out the BS! - and be very clear on what we need.”


7. Tap into your strengths


“Connecting with your strengths and skills challenges self-doubt and builds confidence”, states Anna. “Try jotting down wins in a journal and reflecting: I had a great day and I am proud of myself for these achievements.”


8. Talk about menopause to people at work


“This can be hard” says Anna. “Women need to feel confident that what they say will be treated with trust and safety, but there are things you can do to help yourself.

  • Do your prep: make sure having a conversation with someone is the right thing for you to do. Be really clear on what your aim is for the meeting. Do you just want to make people aware of the impact of your symptoms? Or would you like to make actual changes?

  • Take notes into the meeting – these serve as an anchor if you get stressed and provide clarity about what was discussed.

  • Follow up with an email: this is what I believe was agreed in the meeting, do you agree? Should we schedule a meeting next month for a conversation about the actions that we've taken forward? That way, you're empowering yourself to take ownership, not allowing someone else to dictate the terms.” 

 

To conclude, negotiating the menopause at work requires a pragmatic and empathetic approach that recognises the unique challenges faced by women during this transition. By seeking the right medical advice combined with a supportive workplace, women can feel empowered to manage their symptoms without compromising their career progression. Acknowledging and addressing these challenges within the workplace is essential to support women in navigating both their professional and personal health.

 

To find out more about Anna Allerton and her fascinating work: https://www.allertoncoaching.com/

 

For more information about how your organisation could be more proactive in supporting women’s wellbeing at work, take a look at the Wellbeing of Women charity and the Menopause Workplace Pledge.



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