Magazine article Personnel Journal

Facing Menopause in the Workplace

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Facing Menopause in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Of all the phases of a woman's life, menopause is the one that has not been celebrated in our culture until recent years. Although a woman does reach the end of her childbearing years at this time, menopause doesn't mean the end of her productivity at the workplace. With education, understanding and support, the menopausal woman can, in fact, face her transition with renewed vigor and grace.

Over the years, as an employment counselor, I've had many conversations with those experiencing or anticipating this natural stage of life. At the age of 46, I also share a very personal interest. What many of these women have told me is that they've often coped with some degree of depression, insomnia, hot flashes and anxiety attacks. In some cases, the women may feel they can't talk with their supervisors or co-workers about what they're experiencing--particularly if the supervisors are men or younger women. Even when they're working with women their own age or older, some feel self-conscious because their experiences might be more severe than those of their peers.

Hence, one might wonder why a conceivably competent and dependable employee might suddenly resist a new job assignment or become more difficult to work with. Could menopause ever be a factor?

The more that I learned, the more I realized how unique each woman's experience can be. Unfortunately, there's still a limited amount of information available about how to deal with menopause in the workplace and how human resources can develop appropriate support. Yet over the decade, it's estimated that about 2 million women annually will become menopausal.

At Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, we employ almost 800 women between the ages of 40 and 55. Faced with these demographics, I initially spoke with an employee-assistance counselor and a nurse midwife about starting a group for women to discuss their process in menopause and how it affected their work. We were in agreement about the need.

As I pursued the idea with others, the first few encounters were daunting, to say the least. One woman was very concerned about anything that might suggest that we're different or unable to compete with men in the workplace. Another woman warned, "This could be a double-edged sword. Be careful with it. We've worked so hard, we don't want to give the impression that menopausal women can't keep it together." Fortunately, my research and others have proven this perception wrong.

Although I didn't share these women's skepticism, I was forced to recognize that I was standing on shaky ground. I needed to be mindful that I wanted to help these women, not threaten them. Acknowledging menopause and perimenopause--the process leading up to the cessation of the menses--can be threatening and embarrassing.

The truth is, it's a process that happens whether we talk about it or not. Why should we be silent when there's more information available to help us, and we can all benefit from discussion groups at the workplace?

My two colleagues and I were hopeful that we could provide support from each of our expertise--the clinical, psychological and human resources areas. To get the campaign underway, we advertised a discussion group called "May to September, Work and the Next Third of Life: Women's Journeys."

After two days of being publicized in our newsletter, we filled up the roster. We conducted four weekly sessions that were each limited to a group of 12 menopausal and perimenopausal women.

Our objective was for the women to learn about the process their bodies were undergoing and discuss how this could affect them physically and emotionally. …

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