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How can menopause impact your work and wellbeing
How can menopause impact your work and wellbeing
By Corinne Doherty, Account Based Marketing leader, and Co-Chair of the Wellbeing network at Kyndryl UK
(Article adapted from version previous published by Financial times, Women in Business Community)
My experience of menopause coincided with a difficult time in my life. I had just started in a senior role – my first managerial job in the same week my mother died from a brain tumour. I was anxious, experienced brain fog, lacked confidence and it is only now, years later, that I understand the effect that the peri menopause was having on my wellbeing.
At the time the topic was taboo, especially in the office. Today, people are more open about it – in particular, its effect on women who work – and employers know the importance of menopause support.
To bring lasting change, we need to keep this conversation going, which is why I am sharing my story.
Experiencing menopause in the workplace
When my periods stopped, I was glad to have one less thing to think about. It was only in retrospect, years later, when I watched a documentary on menopause by Davina McCall, the television presenter, that I realised how much the lack of hormones had affected my behaviour and feelings.
I am a person who multitasks well. I think ahead. I love to be busy. But at this time my brain was foggy. I couldn’t think clearly or make decisions quickly. I experienced anxiety, sadness, disturbed sleep and poor memory.
I had lots to learn in my new job, but I found it difficult to retain information, even after taking notes. I was desperate to impress my new manager – yet I was anxious. I worked longer hours to try to stay on top of things, but I found myself reviewing my decisions. I felt like I had aged 20 years in my ability to understand and hold information.
During the day, I felt hot. I stopped wearing jumpers and synthetic materials and I dreaded taking off my coat on the train as there was always perspiration down my back. I woke in the night sweating profusely. My lack of sleep made me exhausted, grumpy and tearful.
I tried to hide my symptoms by choosing my wardrobe carefully. I didn’t feel I could discuss my experiences with colleagues and I was fearful of sharing these concerns with my new manager – I worried that the mention of menopause would age me, that everyone would think I was heading for retirement rather than being the right leader.
The impact of menopause
Menopause made me feel old and I worried about the future. At the time I decided that the exhaustion and different challenges were down to the new role at work, my longer hours and a lack of rest. I stopped doing the things that recharge me, like exercise and meeting friends as I spent more time trying to get on top of my workload.
None of my friends, even those older than me, had experienced menopause, and my mother was no longer there to offer advice. I felt alone and insecure.
I saw a doctor who agreed I was in menopause but gave no support, or indication that the emotions I was experiencing were linked to reduced hormones in my body. At work I didn’t discuss how I felt, but the pressure led me to speak to my company’s employee assistance programme.
That helped but in the end, I decided to take a sabbatical, to allow myself time to recover and recharge.
It is only now that I realise how much my low hormone level contributed to my lack of cognitive function and disturbed sleep. I was afraid to look into Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) because of hearsay about cancer risks. I also felt ashamed at the idea that I might need medication.
As I’ve learnt more about the impact of menopause and talked to a different doctor, I now understand the enormous effect that low oestrogen can have on every part of you.
Two years after my symptoms started, when my glistening skin during hot flushes became unbearable, I did turn to HRT. My doctor highlighted the positive effects, which include stronger bones and protection from some cancers.
The change has been significant. I feel myself again. I sleep better, my cognitive ability is back and I can wear what I like.
Living with menopause
Menopause is a natural process and many women can adjust their lifestyle to manage it. For others, however, it is not an easy transition. These women may need extra considerations to support them at work.
The menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
Symptoms last for four to eight years.
The average age for menopause is 51.
About 75 to 80 per cent of menopausal women are in work.
Symptoms can start up to nine years before periods stop.
In the absence of legislation, it is up to business and women to drive change. By sharing my story, I hope to raise awareness of menopause. I was impacted in my early forties which is considered early, at a time when I was seeking career growth. I believe that employee-led, company-wide policies can shift attitudes and end stigma.
I work for Kyndryl, the world’s largest IT infrastructure services provider. The company designs, builds, manages and modernises the complex, mission-critical information systems that the world depends on every day. Kyndryl’s nearly 90,000 employees serve over 4,000 customers in more than 60 countries around the world, including 75 percent of the Fortune 100.
Kyndryl supports women during menopause in various ways:
A Let's Talk Menopause campaign began in October. This is run in collaboration with the Kyndryl inclusion network and aims to break the stigma surrounding menopause.
A menopause workplace policy supports individuals and ensures that managers know how to give the best and most appropriate individual support. There is also specific managerial training that covers menopause awareness and corporate responsibilities.
Menopause champions (both men and women) hold regular Pause cafés to encourage people to talk openly and share experiences.
Menopause affects not only the women who go through it but also those who work with them. Raising awareness of symptoms and educating people on how to support menopausal women is helpful to all.
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