I thought I was losing it. For those that know me well I am a high flying sales professional, always at the top of my game, a social butterfly, up for anything. However, when turning
47 I started to get hot flushes at work, which I hid to begin with, by insisting that I had to sit by a window not knowing why I was getting hot all the time. Then a few months later depression hit, and I began to suffer with low - dark moods, heart palpations, anxiety, mental fog and confusion.
Louise Wright, our Associate Director, opens up on her experience with menopause within the workplace, and how she tackled it.
I felt I was failing at my job. I was working at an recruitment agency at the time, which was was an extremely stressful role. I had a male Managing Director (MD), and worked in a team where 85% of the sales team were men. There was no HR support, and the office manager was the wife of the MD, so felt unapproachable. I wanted to give up my job as I could not cope with the brain fog, confusion, low moods, and anxiety that I was suffering from. I started avoiding social events, hid in my house at weekends, and even ignored texts from friends and family. At that time, I hated my life, I simply did not understand why this was happening to me, I thought to myself 'am I going crazy?'
In the end, I decided to leave my Job, thinking it might be the job that was making me both depressed, and anxious. In doing so, I set up a new recruitment business alongside my colleague Gary Janes via a large UK Nationwide Recruitment Business, thinking that would make me happy. However, I felt the same low moods, a lack of motivation, and anxiousness that I was suffering from before. I even started getting panic attacks, and did not want to get out of bed of a morning. I just wanted to be on my own, I did not want to speak to anyone, and I constantly kept crying.
I once again found myself in a position where I thought 'that’s it I’m going to give up my job', so I approached the head of human resources (HR) to discuss my options to leave the business - which turned out to be the best thing for me. My HR contact said they thought I was suffering with perimenopause / menopause, and that I should not be ashamed.. But at the time, I had no bloody idea what perimenopause was!
After some research, I found that there are currently 4.4 million women aged 50-64 in the workplace, and according to a 2019 survey conducted by BUPA, and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), three in five of these women have suffered with menopausal symptoms, usually aged between 45 and 55. Of those women, almost 900,000 left their jobs in the UK over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms, which had negatively affected their work. This could mean that women are leaving businesses 'at the peak of their experience', which will impact productivity. So, according to research, women in this age group are likely to be eligible for senior management roles, and so their exit can lessen diversity at executive levels, which in turn can also contribute to the gender pay-gap, and feed into a disparity in pensions.
Under the Equality Act 2010, menopause discrimination is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex and disability discrimination. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides for safe working, which extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms. The Government Equalities Office 2019 ‘roadmap’ on gender equality commits the Government to conduct research into “what works to improve women’s reproductive health, across the life course” and “develop indicators relating to women’s health experience and impact on their work.” The Government has also recently sought views to help inform the development of a Women’s Health Strategy. This inquiry examines the extent of discrimination faced by menopausal people in the workplace, and investigates how Government policy and workplace practices can better support those experiencing menopause.
There have been several calls made for further legislation to require employers to put in place a workplace menopause policy to protect women going through the menopause against discrimination whilst at work. Thankfully, many organisations, both in the public and private sector, are heeding this request. Leading the way are HSBC UK, Sainsbury’s Group, Next PLC, Aviva, ATOS, South Eastern Railways, Carnival UK, along with many NHS Trusts and universities. These organisations are following best practice, and in doing so are seeing the benefits for their employees, along with how quickly a once taboo subject can be normalised.
To conclude, on where I personally am today. I continue to have full support from our HR team, as well as my MD Gary Janes, who are both supporting me through this transition in my life. We have open discussions now about how I am feeling which really helps, and they in turn have provided me with flexible working, and sent me a wealth of information on the topic, such as HR websites, books, information on hormone replacement treatment (HRT) options, wellbeing, and cognitive behaviour treatment (CBT). Don’t get me wrong, it has been tough some days with the symptoms I am suffering from, however HRT has helped a lot. However, when I do have bad days I know I can call in and say I am working from home, which alleviates the stress and worry about my job.
My advice to anyone out there would be 'ladies, please do not think it’s a shameful time in your life! Please approach your HR managers or line managers if you are struggling. Many HR professionals are now putting in place menopause policies, and you will be supported'.