Let us work together to solve the complications relating to this health issue
For many, menopause conjures up feelings of embarrassment, hot flushes, mood swings and sleep disturbance. It is something uncomfortable, private, and seen as a “women’s issue”. There are societal stigmas and taboos associated with it because that is when women stop procreating, i.e. stop having children or end their fertility.
Till recently, it has never been seen or recognised as a workplace issue. Even now, a recognition that menopause is a Diversity & Inclusion and a Business issue has not sunk in.
- The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51. However, it can be earlier than this due to surgery, illness, or natural early menopause.
- Of these, three out of four experience mild to moderate symptoms; one in four has severe symptoms.
- Around eight in ten menopausal women are at work.
The scale of the Problem and Effect on Work
The experience and symptoms of menopause will vary from mild to moderate to severe and debilitating. In addition to hot flashes and insomnia, women also experience headaches, loss of energy, anxiety attacks, brain fog, aches and pains, and dry skin and eyes. This translates to a part of the workforce potentially being at work without enough sleep, sweating to death at their desks with intermittent headaches, no energy, and an achy body. Also, perhaps more worryingly, it has been estimated that around 10% of women stop work altogether because of their severe menopausal symptoms.
Research has shown that the more frequently women reported experiencing menopause-related symptoms with some women being misdiagnosed as suffering from mental ill-health or other conditions. This led to their less engagement to the work with the higher their intention to quit their job.
The onset of menopausal symptoms in a woman affects the organisation as they are not ready to take responsibilities. So it is no longer an individual’s problem, but one that organisations need to take cognisance of and build into their diversity and people management policies and practices.
At the time of menopause, the work culture and the way organisations deal with the employee going through the phase plays a big part. It starts with creating the environment to talk about menopause openly and without embarrassment. It is a natural phase in every woman’s life that needs to be normalised.
The stigma makes it challenging to treat
The menopause has traditionally been seen as a private matter or ‘a women’s issue’. It is certainly not a topic which is often discussed openly, or which has been considered in the design of workplaces and working practices. It brings with it physical changes to the body and for many women can cause physical and psychological symptoms. Importantly, we observed that some women’s symptoms get worse, while others improve as they transition through menopause, so this is a critical life phase for intervention. Many women have reported that workplace environments and practices made symptoms worse. Barriers included male-dominated workplaces, male line managers, fear of negative responses, stigma, discrimination, embarrassment, or believing menopause is inappropriate to discuss at work.
Break the silence
There is a need to spread awareness regarding the issue. People must know the symptoms and challenges women face during menopause so they can approach the situation knowledgeably and with compassion. So for this, every woman should come forward.
What is the solution?
Both individuals and organisations need to take steps.
At the individual level-
- Dress comfortably that keeps you cool and comfortable.
- Practice deep breathing, a one-minute silence and other such activities that help you manage stress.
- Instead of waiting until your lunch break to grab a bite to eat, choose healthy snacks to munch on throughout the day.
- Find a friend at workplace or female supervisor with whom you can share your menopause symptoms to reduce stress and make you feel better.
- Stay Hydrated and drink at least eight to ten glasses of water a day as some women quickly dehydrate during menopause, due to hot flashes and night sweats,
- If the symptoms of menopause continue to impact your quality of life, even with these menopause management tips, seek medical help.
- Let your HR and Manager know that you need help and flexibility. Always remember this is a normal thing that happens to every woman. It happens to men too and is called andropause.
Organisational policy and Culture can play an active part
There should be a menopause policy as maternity policies. Organisational practices should put managing menopause on the workplace agenda. Including menopause in occupational health and safety and HR policies can also challenge hidden biases. They should create an environment where women feel confident enough to raise issues about their symptoms and ask for adjustments at work.
The policy should also include a range of practical steps to support women going through menopause. These include increased frequency of breaks, access to toilet facilities, adjustment to uniform, flexible working arrangements which includes work from home. Access to coaching programs, mentors and health services is also vital. Add sick-day policies that cater to menopause-related sickness or absence. Women should experience no disadvantage if they need time off during this time.
Managers should be trained in dealing with women undergoing menopause, the way they are trained in subjects like conflict management and finances.
Expand Benefit Program to Include Alternative Therapies to women who are seeking these therapies for managing the menopausal symptoms but cannot afford them.
Careers need not be stilted or threatened by the impact of menopause. Even though there is no “typical” menopause, some easy and inexpensive workplace adjustments can be made to help with symptoms. Most importantly, an open dialogue needs to be established, so employees aren’t placed under further stress by trying to conceal menopause symptoms. This can be done together by taking help from everyone.
About the Author:
Ms. Sonica Aron, Founder and Managing Partner, Marching Sheep
Ms. Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR consulting firm specializing in Diversity and inclusion interventions,Strategic HR advisory, and capability building.
Sonica is passionate about HR, empowering women and all things in between. A mother of two, she decided to set up Marching Sheep in 2013 with a vision of delivering interventions that truly move the needle. In the past 6 years or so, Marching Sheep has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of Sonica.
Today Marching Sheep boasts of a healthy roster of clients, including Reckitt Benckiser, SBI cards, Sterlite Power, JCB India, Continental Tyres, Diageo, Baxalta, Oetiker to name a few. Sonica spearheads the processes of the boutique HR consulting firm, designs and implements end-to-end solutions for companies, and leads the communication and engagement with clients. She also formulates and administers the overall Corporate and Business Development Strategy of Marching Sheep. At Marching Sheep, her mantra is to help move metrics and therefore all interventions are outcome driven. She helps organizations build processes and capability systemically. Sonica leads a handpicked team of committed HR professionals.
Sonica is a Human Resource and D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) specialist with an experience of 18 years, both in the industry and consulting at leadership levels. She is a business and HR aficionado with a strong understanding of what businesses need from the HR function and HR interventions for organizational growth and success. She has designed one of the most evolved ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ frameworks in India with exclusive programs like – Women@Work and Unleash.
Prior to starting Marching Sheep, Sonica was head of HR for the consumer lifestyle business at Philips where she contributed towards streamlining of people, building processes and employee engagement post the hiving off of TV business; and lead HR for Roche Diagnostics, a swiss multinational entering India, established their HR function from scratch. She also saw the transition from Orange Hutch to Pink Hutch to circle acquisitions to being acquired by Vodafone and was the custodian of HR processes and people integration.
A Delhi University ranker from Hansraj College- Mathematics (H), she did her post graduation in HR from the prestigious XLRI. She started her career with a sound understanding of business where she went route-riding with Pepsico and was part of the team that launched Pepsi 200 ml at Rs 5. She was the first lady HR Manager stationed at a factory in Upcountry UP and there the seeds to her diversity practice were born.
Sonica is a passionate advocator of diversity. Having been a woman professional, Sonica has both experienced and observed gender based bias closely. Every woman in the workspace experiences this at some time or the other. This has prompted her to launch her diversity practice. ‘Organizations need to move ahead of the curve and drive inclusive teams and mindsets, gender sensitive processes and mentor and coach women’- She believes and advocates. She works on board of ‘Gender at Work India Trust’ actively delivering to the society. Sonica is a fitness enthusiast, loves her little patch of the garden and is an avid reader as well.