Changing attitudes towards ‘the change of life’

13 Jun

I’m getting old. I know at 26 I’m comparatively young, but there are some days when I feel –  as I’m sure many of you do – old before my time.

They say you’re only as old as you feel. Well if that’s the case I’m about 56 today! It’s a lovely hot day outside and I’m writing an article for the magazine about the menopause at work. As I do my research, I joke with my colleagues about the fact I think I’m going through ‘the change of life’ 30 years early. “I’m sure I’m having a hot flush,” I panic, but they reassure me I just feel hot because it’s a hot day.

However, reading on through my research I realise this is no joking matter. With around 3.5 million women aged 50 and over in work in the UK, the menopause is an increasingly important matter for workplaces to consider as it usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. But it seems there is very little awareness about this subject as an occupational health issue and it is somewhat of a ‘taboo’ topic.

Symptoms that menopausal women can experience include hot flushes, headaches, tiredness, anxiety attacks and increased stress levels. High temperatures, poor ventilation and a lack of access to cold drinking water in the workplace can make all of these symptoms worse. It is therefore important for employers to ensure that the conditions in the workplace do not make the symptoms of the menopause worse.

Women often feel too embarrassed talking to their manager about going through ‘the change’, particularly if their manager is younger than them, or male. According to research from the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF), nearly a fifth of women thought the menopause had a negative impact on their manager’s and colleagues’ perceptions of their competence at work, and felt anxious about this supposed drop in performance. And more than half of respondents reported that they were not able to negotiate flexible working hours or working practices as much as they needed to in order to deal with their symptoms.

Employers therefore need to recognise that women of menopausal age may need extra consideration, as changes during the menopause can affect how a woman does her work and her relationship with her boss and colleagues.

There is a lot that can be done to make the menopause a more comfortable experience. Work can be organised to include flexible hours, and issues around ventilation can be improved, such as providing a fan or having windows that open. A lot can be done without actually pinpointing menopausal women. It is just generally good practice to have these systems and processes in place.

I’m not normally one to suffer in silence but putting myself in the shoes of a woman experiencing these symptoms, I think I’d find it difficult to talk to anyone at work about what I was going through. Hopefully, through more awareness, it will become easier for women to talk about the menopause and easier to continue working through this stage of life with minimal disruption. But in order for this to happen, there needs to be a change in attitude. I, for one, will think twice before making another ‘wise crack’ about having a hot flush.

Read my article in full in the July/August issue of Safety Management magazine.

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