We Need to Start Putting Women’s Health First: Perimenopause in the WorkplaceDec 22, 2023
Why perimenopause is a workplace issue
It’s hard talking about things as stigmatised as perimenopause. As women, we’re given a limited vocabulary for the gravity of what we experience. And yet, perimenopause doesn’t affect a limited amount of our lives. From the perspective of self-image, from sitting in the doctor’s office, on and on, the symptoms of perimenopause careen recklessly into everything we do, feel, say, and everywhere we go.
And at work? It’s no different.
Perimenopause is a major workplace concern that needs urgent attention. There are 13 million women in the UK right now undergoing perimenopause. Nearly all women in the workforce undergo perimenopause at some point in their careers; yet it remains an overlooked subject in workplace discourse. This 4-to-11-year-old stage of life, marked by a myriad of hormone-driven physical and emotional changes, often arrives unannounced and feels unexplainable, leaving us grappling with symptoms that severely disrupt our professional lives.
The lack of open conversation and education about perimenopause perpetuates a culture of silence.
“Just get on with it.”
The prevailing stigma further exacerbates the situation, leaving us to have to hide our struggles. At best, we’ll be judged for confessing our symptoms - at worst, our career will be at stake.
How employers are making it hard for women to talk about their perimenopausal symptoms
In many workplaces, an unspoken code of silence shrouds discussions around women's health, particularly issues related to perimenopause. Taboos and discomfort prevent open dialogue, making it painful and near-impossible for us to voice our experiences or request the accommodations we need.
- Taboos and Stigma: Cultural norms or workplace taboos around discussing women's health, especially menopause-related issues, create an atmosphere where women feel uncomfortable bringing up their symptoms.
- Misinformation: Limited or inaccurate information within the workplace about perimenopause leads to misunderstanding and trivialisation of its impact on women's daily work life.
- Unsupportive Attitudes: Colleagues or supervisors displaying dismissive attitudes or lack of empathy towards women experiencing perimenopausal symptoms can easily cause emotional harm to their colleagues.
“It is estimated that there are around 13 million people who are currently peri or menopausal in the UK (Wellbeing of Women) which is equivalent to a third of the entire UK female population.”
How employers have designed environments, processes and work structures that alienate and discriminate against perimenopausal women
The modern workplace is built to cater towards a predominantly male demographic. Many of the problems here are structural:
- Lack of Policies: Absence of explicit workplace policies or guidelines addressing perimenopausal challenges leads to uncertainty about how to navigate symptoms or seek support.
- Inflexible Work Structures: Rigid work schedules or environments that lack flexibility can exacerbate symptoms, making it challenging for women to manage their workload effectively.
- Limited Confidentiality: Concerns about confidentiality and potential biases might prevent women from seeking accommodations or support, fearing the risk of professional judgement or discrimination.
- Absence of Resources: Lack of access to resources, such as informational materials or support groups, within the workplace hinders women from seeking guidance or finding ways to manage their symptoms effectively.
But others are day-to-day problems that wreak havoc on a perimenopausal nervous system, like temperature settings that can’t or shouldn’t be altered by staff. Physical discomfort due to erratic temperatures can exacerbate hot flashes, a common symptom during perimenopause, making it difficult for affected women to focus or perform optimally.
Employers must acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't suffice when it comes to addressing the diverse needs of their workforce, particularly during this pivotal phase in a woman's life.
The result: Employers are pushing women out of the workforce
In Forbes’ recent article Why Women Are Leaving the Workforce, Meghan M. Biro writes that,
“Women are leaving. They’re reevaluating. They’re cutting back. They’re breaking up with their own careers.
The study found that in the past year, 29% of women have considered reducing their hours, taking an easier job, or leaving the workforce altogether. Certainly less women have actually gone through with it. But it doesn’t bode well for having a vibrant, thriving talent pipeline, or a diverse, inclusive, thriving workforce. By comparison, some 22% of men are also in that boat.”
There are untold costs to sidelining the needs of women in the workplace. One of these is that women, facing a lack of understanding and support, often find themselves at a crossroads: either silently enduring their struggles or reluctantly opting out of the workforce altogether.
The repercussions extend beyond individual career trajectories. The loss of skilled and experienced women from the workforce due to the challenges posed by perimenopause has severe economic and social implications. Businesses lose valuable talent, and society forfeits the contributions and expertise of a significant segment of its population.
The solution / a corporate call to arms: What the future workplace should look like to eradicate this
Creating an inclusive and supportive environment requires a concerted effort from employers, policymakers, and society at large. Yes, it will take effort and time - but it’s far from impossible.
- Education and Awareness: We must start initiating open conversations about perimenopause. There’s a thousand ways to destigmatise these discussions: resources, workshops, and access to reliable information can empower both employees and employers to navigate this issue more effectively.
- Flexible Policies and Accommodations: Implementing flexible work policies and accommodations is absolutely crucial too. Allowing for adjustable work schedules, remote work options, and temperature-controlled environments can significantly alleviate the impact of perimenopausal symptoms, and foster a more comfortable and productive workplace.
- Supportive Work Culture: But all of this means nothing without a supportive work culture. Encouraging open communication, understanding, and empathy from colleagues and management can create an environment where women feel comfortable discussing their needs without fear of judgement or repercussions. On top of this, we need buy-in and commitment from the leadership if we want to see lasting change.
Envisioning a workplace that values and accommodates the needs of women navigating perimenopause isn't a pipedream. No - it's a necessity for a world that wants a more equitable and sustainable future.
It's time for a collective call to action—a commitment from all stakeholders to prioritise women's health in the workplace and pave the way for a more supportive, inclusive, and productive environment.
If you want to delve deeper into this topic, check out my TikTok @geetasidhurobb where I talk in detail about managing life with perimenopause, or check out my mini video course where I interview a real women’s hormonal health expert on how to talk to doctors to get the help you need.
I also run coaching programmes to support women just like you, as well as regular free webinars. Book in a call and we’ll walk you through how we can help you get back on your feet.