How To Boost Your Confidence At Work During Menopause |
Menopause at work
12 mins

How to boost your confidence at work during menopause

byKate Williams

Coping with menopause symptoms at work can be a huge challenge when brain fog, low mood, imposter syndrome and hot flushes are in the wings, waiting to trip you up when you least expect it. Drawing on her own experience, as well as expert advice from women who head up menopause communities, Kate Williams shares eight tips to give you a boost when you’re struggling at work during menopause.

Brain fog at work

A few years ago, I’d just successfully presented a strategy proposal and was relaxing into the positive vibes of the room. A lovely colleague raised a sensible ‘what if’ scenario, and I opened my mouth to respond. In that instant, my ability to process the question – let alone find the answer – went poof. I had absolutely nothing. Blood pounded in my ears, cortisol flooded my system. There was a terrible pause as I fought the urge to escape.

My tech friend Naomi, 47, talks about the moment she was suddenly unable to learn anything new. Struggling to understand the impacts of a development in her industry, she was forced to delegate an important presentation to a terrified junior colleague. “I felt so ashamed,” she says now. “I had no idea what was going on. By the end of the month I was seriously considering abandoning a career it had taken me two decades to build.”

Laura Shuckburgh, who heads up the organisation Marvellous Midlife, agrees. “I was running a very busy architecture practice with my husband, and I had no idea what was happening to me. I remember going to the wardrobe one day and being unable to choose anything to wear. I became agoraphobic, I would suffer from really bad bouts of anxiety and I didn’t want to go to any meetings.”

Growing menopause support

If even a little of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. A staggering 99% of those polled in a survey last year said their career had been negatively affected by menopause. But there’s good news. In 2021, a wide-ranging parliamentary enquiry into menopause and work by the Women and Equalities Committee was launched, and the resulting report recommended a series of interventions to improve the way that people are treated during menopause. The conversation has become mainstream, encouraging more and more of us to speak up about our experiences. Even Primark has recently launched a menopause range – the ultimate proof that menopause is firmly in the zeitgeist and taboos are finally crumbling.

Talking about menopause in the workplace

So why, when it comes to menopause and the workplace, can it still feel almost impossible to start the conversation – let alone get the support we need?

Laura Shuckburgh says of her own experience, “I was working in a very male-dominated business and people were leaving their jobs because they felt they couldn’t talk about menopause in the office. It becomes all too much and people think it’s easier just to leave.”

It’s true that there are plenty of horror stories out there, as the government’s recent menopause enquiry heard. As a consequence, those of us who feel that our careers are only just recovering from the impact of having children might think twice about talking about menopause.

“They come back and have to work their way back up, then all of a sudden menopause hits, just when they could be in line for a promotion or getting onto that real top level,” Laura says.

Why ageism is still an issue

Regardless of our parental status, many of us worry that we’ll be sidelined, or worse.

“We live in a very ageist society, so we might not want to admit that we’re in menopause. But in fact, we’re in the prime of our lives – and we need to advocate for this re-emergence, says Laura Shuckburgh.”

The fact is that real workplace change will only come about if we help create it, both for ourselves and for younger people coming behind us. And, if the alternative is suffering in silence till things reach a crisis point, well, what have you got to lose? Arm yourself with knowledge, and understand your own worth and here’s how. 

Eight ways to boost your confidence at work during menopause

1 Know you’re in menopause

Simply understanding that what’s happening to you will empower you – 45% struggle to recognise that they have menopause symptoms.

“If you don’t know, you don’t know how to ask for help and support,” says Lauren Chiren, who held a senior role in finance when perimenopause hit. Convinced that she had early onset dementia, she felt she lost both her own confidence and that of her colleagues, and ultimately resigned. 

Find out more about the signs of perimenopause.

Lauren, who now leads menopause consultancy Women of a Certain Stage, says a key factor is that menopause is not yet a compulsory part of doctor’s training, meaning that too many women aren’t being diagnosed. Times are changing, slowly. By 2034, all doctors will have mandatory menopause training but, in the meantime, many with symptoms are struggling.

Diagnosis stats are pretty grim across the board, but even worse for Black women like my friend Naomi. Recent research found that doctors are more likely to fail to recognise menopause in women of colour, with 45% having multiple appointments before diagnosis.

“I was a bit uncertain about my symptoms, and my doctor flatly refused to believe I was old enough. It wasn’t till I started really researching for myself that I realised that it wasn’t some kind of breakdown or neurological disorder. I was menopausal.”

2 Get to know your symptoms

Laura Shuckburgh says, “Insomnia, and anything that impacts on sleep like hot flushes and night sweats. Having to get up day after day when you’re very tired is probably the biggest issue for many.”

Lauren Chiren agrees, adding, “Aching joints, a feeling that you’ve got old overnight and urinary incontinence. If you’ve got heavy bleeds that come out of nowhere, it’s a recipe for disaster if you’ve got nowhere to change in your workplace, no spare clothes and nowhere to freshen up.”

But she emphasises that menopause is not a one-size-fits-all experience. For example, 41% experience palpitations, and a similar number struggle with headaches. Few know that recurrent UTIs are a frequent symptom, experienced by more than one in ten women.

Naomi said: “I’d heard about hot flushes and night sweats, but I didn’t have either of those, and I didn’t know about most of the other symptoms. That cost me time and, all the while, my confidence was ebbing away.”

Find out about the 34 symptoms of menopause.

Understand how menopause is impacting you in the workplace. “Be your own advocate and do as much research as you can,” says Laura Shuckburgh. “The Stella app and other one-stop shops are good as all the information you need is in one place.”

Download Stella for iPhone or Android.

3 Don’t ignore your mental health

Naomi’s most significant symptom was anxiety, which is common.

“When I realised that I couldn’t rely on my brain to kick in, I became paralysed by anxiety. This led to me making little mistakes and then depression set in. I had literally no idea that these were menopause symptoms.”

In fact, anxiety and depression are one of the most common effects of menopause, with over two-thirds experiencing one or the other. Even more struggle with memory and focus and three-quarters of us experience brain fog, often in moments when we most need to seem on top of our game. 

“If you think about not sleeping properly for weeks, months, maybe years,” says Lauren Chiren, “is it any wonder that your focus, your attention, your self-esteem, your moods are affected? Then your mojo, your va-va-voom. Everything stops getting up and going and just disappears.”

Then your mojo, your va-va-voom. Everything stops getting up and going and just disappears.”

Naomi

4 Build yourself up

When you feel powerless, take action on things that are within your control.

According to Laura Shuckburgh,One of the key things is to recognise and accept that you are in the menopause transition. If you’re in denial, that’s going to make it worse.

“Nutrition, mindset, exercise and movement become crucial at this time, and how we are managing our stress through things like meditation and mindfulness. All of these things can help a woman have agency over her symptoms and take control.”

Lauren Chiren remembers a former client, a nurse whose confidence had nose-dived. 

“We worked together to see how could build herself back up, physically and emotionally. She cut out caffeine, increased her water intake, and began a more regular routine to improve her sleep.Then we worked on learning to put herself first.

“By looking back on her incredible achievements, she got to a place where she valued herself and knew the value she offered. She could then go to her employer and say, ‘Look, I’m going through menopause. This is the way it’s impacting me, these are the things I’ve done to help myself -and this is what I need from you’. She demonstrated that she was taking responsibility for her health and was committed to the job, but that she needed them to be committed to her as an employee as well.”

She demonstrated that she was taking responsibility for her health and was committed to the job, but that she needed them to be committed to her as an employee as well.”

Lauren Chiren

5 Arm yourself with the facts

Knowledge is power, so do your research before you talk about menopause at your workplace.

Lauren Chiren said, “Get the language prepared in advance of the conversation. Have a list of symptoms in front of you. Get the core information, the facts and figures, the ages and stages – all of these things are critical.” 

As well as the skills and experience you bring, remember your value can be measured in blunt pounds and pence. Replacing you is likely going to cost time and money, and if you’ve been with the organisation for a while, they will be losing institutional knowledge too. Your employer might already know they need to get on board – help them by speaking their language. 

Remind your employer that changes needn’t involve great cost. “There’s much that workplaces can do,” says Laura Shuckburgh, including:

  • Providing easy access to water
  • Providing desk fans or temperature-controlled rooms
  • Putting someone who’s in menopause by a window 
  • Staggering lunch hours
  • Thinking about uniforms, if that’s a factor
  • Having a quiet space where someone can go just to take five minutes if they are struggling, having a hot flush or feeling anxious 

She points out that flexible work options can help those with menopause symptoms manage their workload more easily, “If an employee is not sleeping properly, ask when she’s going to be most productive. Can she work then?”

Naomi says, “Some of those things would have been great but the most important thing for me was just to get it on paper that I hadn’t suddenly become less of an asset.  I was experiencing something which is universal for women, but which would eventually have an end point. It was a transition, a stage.”

6 Think big

Pay it forward by changing the culture. Consider asking your employer to put a menopause policy in place to help those coming up behind you.

With a bit of luck, you’ll be pushing at an open door. While only 8.3% say their workplace has a menopause policy, three-quarters think their employers might be interested in developing one in the near future. 

“Business owners want to retain and attract new talent in a changing work environment, and having a menopause policy is key to that,” says Laura Shuckburgh. “And not just as a tick box exercise, it needs to be a real culture change.” Awareness training so that line managers feel comfortable discussing menopause is critical, she believes, alongside other culture-shifting measures.

“Having someone within the workplace who’s a key point of contact and who can signpost people to internal and external resources. Having posters up that talk about menopause so that it’s openly discussed, these are so important.”

7 Know your rights

With luck, your employer will be scrambling to support you. But if not or you think they don’t know their responsibilities, then understand the law.

“Nobody going through the menopause should be expected to suffer in silence,” says ACAS, the industrial relations organisation. “Although menopause is not specifically mentioned in legislation, there are still laws that relate to menopause. Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare of everyone at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; and the Equality Act 2010 can apply if women are treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms.”

Read more about your rights during menopause.

“There were more successful tribunals citing menopause in the first half 2021 than whole of 2020,” Lauren Chirens adds. Clearly, menopause and work is a hot social and legal issue right now, and not only because increasing numbers of women are holding bad employers to account.

“We’ve had the Menopause and the Workplace Parliamentary Enquiry with the report recommending that government makes menopause a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, among other things. I’m on the committee for the British Standards Institution – the kitemark – and in October we’re bringing out the first standard for menstruation and menopause. So employers are getting this message right, left and centre, from parliament and from tribunals.”

8 Focus on the future

If menopause is getting you down, remember that things might be hard now but the future could be brilliant.

“This is just a transition, and it’s not going to last forever,” reminds Laura Shuckburgh. “Even if you feel very lost and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, know that there is one. Know that there are ways to get through this transition, and come out stronger.”

Lauren Chiren agrees. “I see menopause as a badge of honour – a way to truly step into your personal power. You’ve already achieved an incredible amount. You’re rich with skills, knowledge and experience. You’ve done that while you’ve had monthly cycles to contend with. Imagine what you’ll be able to do when you haven’t.”

“This is a time to re-emerge,” adds Laura Shuckburgh, “a time to look at what’s working in your life and what’s not.

“And actually, if you can start to manage your menopause – this is a time to fly.”

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