Female in office of perimenopause age

Empowering Female Leaders: Navigating Perimenopause and Menopause in the Workplace (Part One)

You’re not going crazy. It’s most likely perimenopause

Intelligent, accomplished, capable, and dedicated – these are just a few words that describe the remarkable individuals I have the privilege of working with. Leaders at work and home, at their peak they are juggling so many balls in the air with speed and dexterity that it would make your eyes water. All that separates them from superheroes is that they don’t don a cape for work.

Yet despite their awesomeness, some of my clients grapple with profound self-criticism. The confidence they once had has been eroded by feelings of doubt and anxiety. Their laser focus and concentration replaced by brain fog and forgettfulness. Exhausted and wired, disrupted sleep is the norm. They feel uncomfortable in their own body thanks to raging hot flushes, mid-life spread and a host of other bizarre symptoms. Many fear they are going crazy or have early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia. One of client summed it up by saying that they felt as though their body had been hijacked by goblins just when life was getting good.

Seriously, what is going on?!

What connects this sub-set of my clients is not only this shared troubling experience, but also their physiology. They’re female, aged in their 40s and 50s and they are experiencing some of the 34-plus symptoms of perimenopause.

Understanding Perimenopause and Menopause

Perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the years leading up to menopause. Menopause itself is a single day in a woman’s life when she has not had a period for 12 continuous months and marks the final stage of a woman’s reproductive life. Following menopause (the single day), the woman transitions into post-menopause. For many women, perimenopause can be more chaotic and tumultuous than the years following menopause. This is due to the unpredictable rise and fall of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are no longer working together in harmony. After menopause, levels gradually decline and symptoms can subside.

Perimenopause can begin as early as mid-30s, with most women starting to experience symptoms in their mid-40s. While the transition to menopause can last up to 10 years, the symptoms are felt most acutely 4 to 5 years before menopause. The average age to experience menopause in New Zealand is around 51 years of age.

Impact on Women and Workplaces

While a lucky 20% of women experience no symptoms during perimenopause, the majority do, with brain fog, confusion, memory loss, hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, and depression being the most common. Let’s just say perimenopause is no picnic for most women, especially when combined with the pressures of demanding work and home lives. For a quarter of women, the symptoms can be severe. These symptoms are affecting our women and workplace at a time when they’re getting their stride on and moving through the ranks.

A global study in 2021 of over 5,000 women aged 18+ who had experienced menopause while at work found that over three in five (62%) said their symptoms impacted them at work. A third (33%) tried to hide their symptoms at work, with two in five (44%) indicating they felt too embarrassed to ask for support in the workplace. This is despite menopause being a natural part of life that directly impacts over half our population. It’s little wonder the majority (66%) agreed that there should be more workplace support for women group through menopause.

New Zealand and our workplaces are currently lagging behind the likes of other countries in providing adequate support and resources for women navigating perimenopause in the workplace. However, by taking proactive steps and implementing supportive measures, we can create a more inclusive and empowering environment for female leaders experiencing this transition.

Tips for Navigating Perimenopause and Menopause in the Workplace

Practice self-compassion

Studies show when compared to self-criticizers more self-compassionate people feel more competent, are more resilient, feel less depressed and anxious, have stronger relationships, and are psychologically healthier overall. Practicing self-compassion and understanding that you’re not going crazy, your experiences are natural and are not a reflection of your capabilities can go a long way in managing the angst of perimenopause.

Talk about it

Having a conversion about personal health matters at work may not be easy but is important. Businesses have a moral and legal obligation to provide and maintain a healthy and safe workplace so far as is reasonably practicable, but they can only offer support when they understand there is a need. Discuss any adjustments or accommodations with your manager or HR department, such as flexible work hours or access to a comfortable workspace. Consider rehearsing the conversation with a family member or friend, and write notes about what you’d like to get out of the conversation, the impact your symptoms are having on you at work, and possible solutions for support.

Self-care is a necessity, not an indulgence

Manage symptoms and maintain overall wellbeing by prioritising self-care. This includes engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, staying hyrdated, taking regular breaks, prioritising quality sleep, managing stress through relaxation techniques, and seeking support from friends, family, or support groups. When you feel your best, you perform your best. Everyone wins.

Make your workspace work for you

Make adjustments to your workspace to accommodate your needs. This might include having a fan, using ergonomic furniture to support posture, headphones to reduce noise, easy access to water and healthy snacks to maintain energy levels and keeping a perimenopause care pack handy. Your perimenopause care pack could include cleansing wipes, deodorant, pain killers, sanitary products, clean underwear, photos of loved ones, your favourite fragrance or lipstick.

Protect your time and energy

Manage your workload effectively to minimize stress and prevent burnout. Prioritise tasks based on your natural energy and concentration levels during the day. Set boundaries and delegate tasks when necessary.

Utilise technology and systems for memory aid

Incorporate technology and organizational systems to help manage brain fog and forgetfulness. Use calendar apps with automatic reminders and consider utilising dictation or note-taking apps on your smartphone.

Don’t go at it alone

Don’t hesitate to seek support from colleagues, friends, or support groups who may be going through similar experiences. Remember, by talking it through with others you not only receive validation and encouragement, but you also help to decrease the stigma and increase awareness. Consider consulting with a healthcare professional for personalised advice and treatment options to help manage symptoms effectively.

Continuing the conversation: How Can Workplaces Help Women Through Perimenopause and Menopause

Recognising and addressing the challenges faced by women during perimenopause and menopause is essential for fostering a sustainable high performance team. By supporting female employees through this transition, workplaces can create an inclusive and supportive environment where everyone can thrive.

If you’re interested in promoting sustainable high performance and supporting yourself and your female employees through perimenopause and beyond, let’s connect. Together, we can ensure the well-being and success of all team members.

About the author

Josie Askin, CEO of Spring Coaching, is a performance and productivity coach who works with driven leaders and entrepreneurs to improve their performance and productivity.

Josie has nearly 20 years working in government, in a range of advisory roles. She became interested in the gaps between workplace performance and wellbeing, gradually building analogies between sport and business performance while gaining several coaching qualifications. Now she deals with clients under pressure from all walks of life offering tailored leadership performance coaching, workplace wellbeing programmes, workshops, speaking and facilitation.