How to talk to your boss about menopause symptoms
Menopause symptoms can affect all areas of life – including work.
However, Helen Tomlinson, England’s first ever menopause employment champion, said women are unlikely to take menopause leave unless there is a cultural change.
Tomlinson told the PA news agency the introduction of menopause leave for those impacted by symptoms would be a “positive step” – but added that it may not be effective “until that culture change is really embedded.”She continued: “I think before that could come into play effectively, there needs to be more cultural focus on people feeling comfortable saying that is why they are taking that leave. Otherwise, I think there will always be the preference of taking sick leave or saying, ‘I’m taking sick leave’, rather than feeling comfortable saying, ‘I’m taking menopause leave or period management leave’, as an example.”
Recent years have seen a huge shift in menopause awareness, particularly in the workplace. But as Tomlinson highlights, there is still work to be done.
How to start a conversation with your boss
For those who are struggling with menopause symptoms, how do you broach the subject with your employer?
“So many people are struggling with symptoms and don’t know how to broach it, because they think it is personal, or there may be fear of judgement from raising the topic because of the negative perceptions and taboo around menopause,” says Deborah Garlick, CEO of Henpicked: Menopause In The Workplace.
“Symptoms we hear about most are things like hot flushes and achiness, but there are also really hard psychological symptoms like anxiety, worry, changes in confidence, forgetfulness and struggles with sleeping. When you see that those affect women in the workplace, you see that it can really get in the way of your job.”
Garlick acknowledges having a conversation about menopause at work may feel like new or uncomfortable territory – and it’s helpful to remember many of us are in the same boat here.
“It is hard for some of us to start that conversation, but it might also be the first time your line manager may have spoken about it too,” she notes.
Prep ahead and have all the information to hand
“Our top tip is to do your prep before going in to discuss it, find out if your organisation is menopause-friendly, has held training, and has policies in place. See how they can support you. Three in 10 employers do have something in place, so do your research,” says Garlick.
It might be helpful to get clear beforehand about how exactly menopause symptoms are impacting you. That way, any adjustments or solutions can be focused to your individual needs.
“Keep a diary of symptoms, so you can come to understand them and how they affect you and your work,” suggests Garlick. “If you have that diary and have started to recognise patterns in how they affect you at work, say sleeplessness, it makes it easier to make suggestions – like more remote working or shift changes.
“Speak to your GP so you can understand what your options are for managing these symptoms, too.”
Choose the right time and place
Garlick suggests thinking about when you want to have this conversation too, and booking it in as a meeting so you know you are ready for it when it happens.
“Find the right time and place for the meeting and put it in the diary, be it in a private room or in a space you are comfortable,” she says. “Take them your prep and tell them what would help you. That will hopefully have a really positive outcome.”
A little bit of patience may also be required
Changes may not be instant – but that doesn’t mean the conversation hasn’t been worthwhile.
“Accept they may need to go away from the meeting and talk to someone in HR, so suggest you catch up soon in the future about workplace adjustments after that,” says Garlick.
Keep your worth in mind
Remember, this conversation is the mark of a change in your life – not the end of your working life.
As Helen Normoyle, co-founder of My Menopause Centre, says: “Believe in yourself, and put aside any concerns that you’re ‘past it’!
“As a 40 or 50-something woman, you’ve another 40-50% of your life still ahead of you, and you have the benefit of years of work and life experience,” she adds. “Skills and experiences that are much needed in today’s workplace and in society at large.”