Menopause marks the permanent end to your fertility. It occurs after you have gone without menstrual periods for 12 successive months due to natural causes. The average age in the United States is 51, but you can reach menopause anytime during your 40s or 50s. Ovarian function declines as you mature, lowering your estrogen and other hormone levels. These gradual changes can take up to a decade or more, possibly extending into the 60s. During that time, you might suffer from an array of life-disrupting menopausal symptoms including hot flashes.
Women transitioning through the change are key players in the American labor force. In 2012, 26.8 million 45- to 64-year-old women comprised nearly 20 percent of the civilian workforce, and their contributions are rising continuously. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that female employees in this age bracket will increase 3.8 million by 2018.
A recent national survey included responses from 1,500 full time and part time 45- to 65-year-old working women who’d experienced menopausal symptoms during the previous year. The researchers discovered that controlling menopausal moments at work was extremely to somewhat difficult for 48 percent of respondents. Some menopausal indicators influenced work more than others. The most troublesome was hot flashes at 31 percent. Almost all (98 percent) of women admitted having hot flashes with most of them enduring flares several times during any day. Other key concerns were memory and focusing struggles (19 percent) and exhaustion following sleep disruptions (18 percent).
Roughly one-third reported trying to hide their symptoms at work. About 22 percent indicated that they modified their work schedules during the survey period. Around 12 percent of women agreed somewhat strongly that their interfering menopausal symptoms led to them turn down more responsible positions or promotions. While 89 percent did not skip shifts due to menopausal struggles, the 11 percent who did missed only about three days during the previous year.
Today’s menopausal women were more comfortable being honest about their challenges at work than previous generations. In spite of the common view that menopause is an embarrassing topic, 59 percent of women believed that being open with colleagues about general wellness and health issues is acceptable. Some 54 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that their co-workers were supportive while they dealt with symptoms in their workplaces. About 31 percent reported feeling at ease revealing symptoms to their work supervisors. They noted increasingly positive reactions from both their peers and managers.
Fortunately, a few minor adjustments to women’s daily routines and compassionate colleagues seem to help. Three-quarters of the subjects changed their work attire to cope with symptoms. These included 46 percent choosing lighter weight or looser fitting clothes, and 41 percent dressing in layers so they could remove cardigans or jackets easily. They also modulated menopausal effects by lowering indoor temperatures and using fans.
Expert Viewpoints and Tips
Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Magazine, advises that embracing and acknowledging your menopause moments is better than sweating and denying your condition at work, which will draw more attention. If you prefer to keep such matters private, make an exception to admit that you are having a temporary power surge. Then resume your typical reserved manner.
Dr. Ivy Alexander, Ph.D., from the University of Connecticut’s School of Nursing, says informing others that your transition is a normal life event can smooth workplace reactions (see video below). She advises letting fellow employees know that you are not going through something strange or wrong. Normalizing a natural life process is very healthy and empowering. Menopausal colleagues can share helpful tricks with each other to increase their comfort levels. If interrupted sleep is a problem, Alexander notes that limiting caffeine and exercising earlier in the day can encourage sleeping well. Also choose lightweight bed sheets, keep your bedroom cool, and use a fan.
She reports that lifestyle changes help some women manage their menopause-related symptoms. Yet the same practical adjustments are not sufficient for others. For those facing tougher challenges, Alexander recommends discussing and weighing the available options openly and honestly with your gynecologist or primary care doctor. Many treatments are available today to help you manage your disruptive symptoms. You can pick the best match based on your specific symptoms and health history. Premarin, a prescription estrogen replacement, helps reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings along with vaginal irritation, burning, and dryness.
Some lucky women who have easy transitions do not understand all the hype and fuss about menopause. But symptoms can be extremely dramatic for many others. If that describes you, Alexander advises educating yourself about the common symptoms. She recommends the Personal Menopause Answers website as a valuable resource with lots of helpful information.
Other experts advise listening to your body’s cues and determining your specific symptom triggers including foods, beverages, and stress so you can minimize them. Fruits, veggies, and red meat are good choices to boost your nutrient and energy levels. Replace excess caffeine and alcohol with extra water. Practicing yoga, tai chi, or meditation also may help manage mood swings.