Content Warning: This personal article written by our founder and CEO, Emily Jaksch, bravely delves into the topic of menopause and women’s health from a first-person perspective. It candidly discusses taboo subjects and shares Emily’s personal experiences. Please be aware of the sensitive nature of the content and proceed with discretion, especially if you may find discussions of menopause triggering or distressing.

Around two years ago, I found myself on an unexpected and challenging journey – the rollercoaster ride of perimenopause. As my cycle became increasingly irregular, I grappled with a slew of symptoms that seemed to conspire against my sense of well-being. Weight gain, insomnia, night sweats, and hot flushes became unwelcome companions in both my personal and professional life. I could not believe this was happening to me. I was only 45 years old. I thought this was a 50-year-old thing. Yunno an old lady jam. Little did I know.

Professionally, the impact was subtle yet undeniable. The fluctuating hormones affected my concentration and energy levels, making it challenging to maintain the same level of productivity. I found myself withdrawing from opportunities and interactions, a stark contrast to my previous, more outgoing self.

On a personal level, the toll was more frustrating. The weight gain and sleep disturbances added to the daily struggle, leaving me feeling disconnected from the vibrant, active person I once was. The night sweats and hot flushes disrupted my sleep and left me irritable during the day. I turned into a stranger. I was snappy, annoyed and downright bitchy. I had also started clenching my jaw in my sleep so badly that I would wake up with aching teeth.

This all culminated in me starting to feel anxious and depressed. I had no idea that all of these symptoms were linked to perimenopause. I literally felt like I was going crazy. I even went to the Doctor and was shocked to be told. “Oh well – this is just menopause. It’s just a stage in life that women go through. Not much you can do.”

This was from a male doctor, and their dismissal of my symptoms made me feel even worse.

But the more I read about menopause, the more I learned how little is really known about this life stage, and in fact, most women and medical professionals are completely in the dark about what is happening in women’s bodies and how to treat hormonal imbalances and resulting symptoms.

Fast forward to a year ago, and life took another unexpected turn for me. A mountain biking accident resulted in a shattered heel and leg, accelerating my perimenopausal challenges into full-blown menopause. As my body coped with the physical trauma, the hormonal changes intensified, and my menstrual cycle stopped. It has been nine months now, and it has not returned. If I don’t have a cycle for a further three months, then I have officially gone through menopause. (Something else I learned recently.)

I spent six months not able to walk. It was the loneliest and most depressed I have ever felt in my life. Little did I know that my hormonal changes were likely adding to my feelings of despair, weight gain, and reduced healing abilities. Coupled with this, I got sick, which seemed like every month. Cold after, flu, after gastro, I could not win a trick. Something else I learned was that women in menopause have a reduced immune system, leading to more illness and probably more sick days.

My own personal experiences and these events prompted me to reflect on the broader implications of menopause, not just for myself but as a shared experience for countless women navigating the challenges of hormonal shifts whilst trying to maintain a life. It became apparent that there’s a need for increased awareness and support, particularly in the workplace, where women may face additional hurdles and judgment.

If I am honest, this got me thinking about all the times in my career when I was asked as an HR professional to “deal with” or “performance manage” the cranky older women who had turned into someone that no one wanted to talk to, in fear of getting their head bitten off. The stereotype is Linda from Accounts, the 50-year-old dragon lady. Who was snappy and looked like she had sucked a lemon. But what if Linda used to be bubbly, a social butterfly? Always willing to lend a hand, and perimenopause and menopause had robbed her of this former self. What if Linda even went to the Doctor for help? But like so many women she was brushed aside and told.

“Sorry, nothing you can do. Just suck it up, Linda – be a trooper”. What if….

I was shocked and ashamed of my total ignorance. It was only when I started to experience this myself that I finally began to connect the dots, and it was a massive slap in the face.

I then started doing some research, and luckily, there are now a whole lot of women doing some amazing work in this space. But let’s first look at some of the data around menopause and work.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Natalie Moore from Own Your Health Company and she shared some alarming statistics about women in the workplace and which brought home the massive impacts this was having on women across the globe.

Did you know:

  • Many women don’t recognise menopause as the cause of their symptoms, leading them to avoid discussing it or seeking help, especially if colleagues lack understanding.
  • Menopausal symptoms typically last longer than expected, averaging 4 years, with some enduring symptoms for over 10 years.
  • Around 25% of women experience severe symptoms, impacting both individuals and their coworkers.
  • Studies indicate menopausal symptoms can affect attendance and performance at work, sometimes leading to misdiagnoses and performance issues.
  • Menopausal symptoms such as poor concentration, fatigue, memory issues, depression, and hot flashes can make work challenging, with approximately 10% of women leaving their jobs due to severe symptoms.

So what can we do? Natalie and her business partner are paving the way in this space and are providing education sessions as a first step. They claim an integrated approach is needed, and this is important because:

  • Menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic.” (Office of National Statistics UK)
  • 83% of women say their work is negatively impacted by the symptoms of menopause. (Circle In)
  • More women in top-tier management levels will deliver improved profitability for business. Now more than ever, achieving workplace gender equality is an absolute necessity for every organisation in Australia. (WGEA)
  • Women comprise 47.4% of all employed persons in Australia. (WGEA)

Here are some Tips for Businesses to Support Women During Menopause:

  1. Educate and Raise Awareness: Provide educational resources on menopause for all employees. Workshops and seminars can help create a more informed and empathetic workplace, breaking down stigmas and fostering understanding. Natalie and her team can help.
  2. Flexible Working Arrangements: Recognise the fluctuating energy levels and potential discomfort that menopausal symptoms can bring. Implement flexible working hours, remote work options, or compressed workweeks to accommodate individual needs.
  3. Wellness Programs: Incorporate wellness programs that focus on physical and mental well-being. This could include fitness classes, mindfulness sessions, and counselling services to support women during this phase of life.
  4. Temperature Control: Consider the physical aspect of hot flushes. Ensure workplace environments are temperature-controlled and provide options for personal comfort, such as desk fans or access to cooler spaces.
  5. Open Communication Channels: Encourage open communication about menopause. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and challenges, fostering a supportive community within the workplace.
  6. Supportive Policies: Develop policies that explicitly address menopause-related accommodations. This could include extended sick leave options, flexible break times, or temporary adjustments in responsibilities during challenging periods.
  7. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Ensure the availability of EAPs that provide confidential counselling and support services. Menopause can impact mental health, and having resources in place can be crucial for employees facing emotional challenges.
  8. Regular Check-ins: Establish regular check-ins between managers and employees to discuss any adjustments or accommodations needed. This proactive approach helps create a supportive and understanding work environment.

By tackling these issues head-on, businesses can contribute to a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment, acknowledging and accommodating the unique challenges women may face during perimenopause and menopause. As we collectively navigate this uncharted territory, fostering empathy and understanding is essential for the well-being of all employees.

If you need support or want your organisation to get ahead of the curve I highly recommend reaching out to Natalie at Own you Own Health Company.

Written by Emily Jaksch

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