An ignored condition
Helen Baird-Parker introduces an anonymous report on the widely misunderstood issue of the menopause.
This is an anonymous article from an ARC member. Menopause is still something which is rather difficult to talk about openly at work. And due to issues this member has faced at work, she’d rather not have her namein print. That in itself is a cause for concern for ARC – members shouldn’t experience problems like this, and when they do, they should be able to talk about them. That, unfortunately, isn’t where we are right now. I am in discussion with HMRC about getting a detailed HR policy in place, and to ensure proper guidance and support is available to managers and managed. We have plentiful health and safety guidance – we even have one on ionising radiation – so I’m not sure why we don’t have one on an issue that affects a larger number of our staff.
Menopause is something which can have a profound impact on how a woman feels, day to day. Menopause is not, in general, a disability, but women may need a level of adjustment at work to enable them to give their best. As ever, if ARC members need support and assistance, you can come to us.
ARC Diversity Officer
Menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. Perimenopause is the phase immediately before menopause and can last for a number of years.
Perimenopause does not arrive with a visible name-tag; there is no definitive moment to herald its onset, yet the symptoms some women experience can be both debilitating and worrying. It is a time in life when a woman’s performance at work may also be affected by the symptoms associated with this natural event.
One of the major difficulties women face (aside from a general reluctance to discuss) is the problem of ‘identifying’ that ‘the change’ has begun. A hormone test is not always definitive in the perimenopausal phase. When a woman reports unusual symptoms to her GP, a doctor may view the symptoms as a natural part of reproductive life, something simply to be ‘coped with’. Some doctors may refer a woman to specialists so that serious or life-threatening conditions can be ruled out. Menopause and perimenopause may only get discussed once all other illnesses have been dismissed as a potential cause.I found it very difficult to talk to my younger male manager about this subject. I was aware that my symptoms fitted the menopause picture but I felt uncomfortable discussing the physical details. I also felt reluctant to be seen as ageing.
It is important to be aware that many women will not have a definitive diagnosis for perimenopause. As a consequence it can be very difficult to get appropriate support and understanding from managers at the time when symptoms are troublesome:
I found it very difficult to talk to my younger male manager about this subject. I had experienced a number of different symptoms over 18 months. My manager had been very sympathetic and understanding about the symptoms. We ran in to difficulty when discussing the cause. I was aware that my symptoms fitted the menopause picture but I felt uncomfortable discussing the physical details. I also felt reluctant to be seen as ageing. One of the most debilitating symptoms for me was that I cried more readily. I feel that this trait affected how my capability was perceived.
Had there been better guidance for managers about menopause, in particular around performance management and menopause symptoms, my manager might have been better able to support me through what was a very difficult time.
Given that the retirement age for women has risen from 60 to 68, women may find that menopause happens in the middle of their working lives. It may coincide with a time in their career when they are seeking promotion or taking on greater responsibility or undertaking professional qualifications at work. Menopause and perimenopause are subjects which are as important and relevant as pregnancy when contemplating career paths and career barriers for women. We recognise that pregnancy should represent only a necessary pause in a woman’s career and should not curtail or derail it. Menopause and perimenopause are not yet similarly viewed or understood