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7 Ways to Succeed at Work When Going Through Menopause

By Kerry Weiss
September 15, 2023

If you’ve experienced them, you know that the symptoms of menopause can disrupt your day-to-day life—including your work.

“Obviously hot flashes are a very common symptom,” says Mache Seibel, M.D., a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty, in Boston, and the author of the upcoming book Working Through Menopause: Its Impact on Women, Businesses and the Bottom Line. “It could also be a sensitive bladder, where you're in a meeting and you’ve got to get to the bathroom.”

But, Seibel says, work disruptions could present themselves more subtly. “It could be that you're trying to recall a co-worker’s name, but you have brain fog. And it could be that you are trying to prepare for something, but you can't sleep, so you're tired,” he says. “It could be that all of these symptoms together, plus others, are making you feel not so great about yourself at work. And that makes it hard to get the job done.”

According to results from a 2020 study of menopause and work performanceconducted in Japan, the greater the impact that symptoms have on your life, the more your job performance may suffer.

How to Manage Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause is a typical part of the aging process and happens to every woman, so it needn’t end your career. Taking these steps can help you find support and manage menopause in the workplace.

1. Speak Up

“Menopause is considered a taboo topic at work,” Seibel says. “No one is talking about it.” In fact, some women are discouraged from speaking up out of fear of being stigmatized.

For Jeneva Patterson, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership in Brussels, that sentiment didn’t stop her. She decided to talk openly about her experience with menopause at work when forgetfulness started to take a toll.

“It was almost like an insurance policy,” she says. “Kind of like beating everyone to the punch because I didn't know if people were concerned. I didn’t know if it was just my paranoia of ‘Oh, my God, are people noticing that I’m screwing up?’ but I felt like the best strategy was to just be open about it.”

Jeneva says she really thought it through before speaking up. She devised and rehearsed short go-to responses to help explain her situation without feeling overexposed—all with a sense of humor. And she’s had no regrets. “It helped because people reacted really positively,” Jeneva says.

2. Ask for Accommodations

Easy access to cold water (to cool down and rehydrate) and bathrooms should be a given, though you can request other accommodations, like taking breaks, as needed, or even working from home. To help manage hot flashes, you can also request better access to control the temperature at your desk or in your office—even if it’s just a small desk fan or hand-held paper fan. “That’s really helpful—it makes a difference,” Jeneva says.

According to Seibel, it’s time for companies to step up. “It's really important for companies to create awareness and to open the conversation,” he says. “[They should] start to take measures to normalize menopause—to have programs in place that could help women transition through this window, with information and insights, so that they could work better and perform at the potential they're capable of reaching.”

Seibel is not alone in this sentiment. “It would be great if companies would help educate the employees,” adds Jacqueline Whitmore, international etiquette expert, author, and founder of the Protocol School, an etiquette school in Palm Beach, Florida.

A review of studies on menopause at work suggested it would be helpful to women going through menopause in the workplace if employers offered support by altering the work environment as needed, providing information and support to staff with menopause, and training managers.

This is where a friendly conversation could go a long way. Talk to your supervisor or someone in the human resources department to see what accommodations are available.

3. Stay Organized

Making lists, writing everything down, and keeping detailed calendars are all things that can help you stay one step ahead of cognitive symptoms. “I've had to make sure that my organization skills are watertight, and that has really helped me,” Jeneva says. “I don't wait to schedule anything. I block out my entire calendar for everything. I'm pretty thorough.”

4. Dress in Layers

A good rule of thumb for managing menopause in the workplace is to wear layers that you can take off during a hot flash or add back, as needed. “If people are going to the office and they have really crazy sweat, they need to bring a change of clothes,” Jeneva says.

5. Try a Cold Compress

“Your forehead, your palms, and the bottoms of your feet are the places where you can cool [down] or heat up your body the fastest,” says Jeneva, who studies neuroscience. She suggests putting something cold on your hands when you’re having a hot flash. “It’s a really good way to stabilize and bring your body temperature down.”

Try keeping instant cold compresses in your desk drawer, or cool, wet cloths in the work fridge. You could also get an extra fan or a pair of open-toed slippers that you can wear while in your office.

6. Prioritize a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle can also help you manage menopause at work. Aim to:

  • Stay active with a mix of cardio, strength training, and stretching/flexibility exercises. Starting an exercise routine can help improve sleep quality and offer other quality-of-life benefits that make for an easier work life, too.
  • Manage stress with relaxation techniques like meditation or mindfulness. These can help with sleep and stress reduction, which can also help with menopause in the workplace.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking may lead to earlier menopause in some women and may also contribute to increased hot flashes.

7. Talk to Your Doctor About Your Symptoms

You know your body best—so you know when something’s off. “[Women should] talk with their healthcare providers whenever they think something is strange and can't put a finger on it,” Seibel says.

It’s a good idea to find a provider who truly understands menopause, so they can help you find proper treatment. According to a paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2016, many primary care doctors and ob-gyns aren’t getting adequate training on menopause. Try searching on the website for The North American Menopause Society to find a qualified menopause provider near you.

Once you find a healthcare provider who understands what you’re going through, you can discuss your symptoms and work together to create a plan to manage and treat them—in general and at work. “I know women [going through menopause] right now [who] feel absolutely great because they took their health in their own hands, and they went to see a good physician,” Whitmore says, “and now they're living a wonderful, happy, well-balanced life.”

Remember: You’re Not Alone

The vast majority of companies in the United States don’t have any policies or discussions about menopause in the workplace, Seibel says. “So, you have a very symptomatic person feeling detrimental symptoms, and she feels she can't talk about it, who is trying to perform at her peak in a setting where it's not talked about, and she has no normalization of it in the workplace and no one to talk to … when, in fact, a bunch of her sisters all around her are in the same boat.”

Talk about it. Share. You may find you are far from alone.

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