The world of HR consulting is busier than ever, with consultants juggling tasks for multiple clients across multiple industries. But what current trends are we seeing? Who are the HR professionals who are currently entering this busy world of consulting? Increasingly, I’m finding that women aged between 40 and 55 are leaving their corporate roles to become freelance HR consultants. Does this mean there’s a link between peri-menopausal and menopausal women, and wanting the freedom and flexibility of self-employment? Or is there something else drawing them in?
Given the symptoms of menopause – which include poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, feeling low/depressed and lowered confidence – it’s clear to see the problems this might cause at work. Putting the physical symptoms to one side for a moment, imagine you’re a successful female leader holding a position with high levels of accountability and responsibility. You’ve climbed the proverbial career ladder and worked hard to be taken seriously as a professional. Suddenly, you find you are suffering from memory loss, unable to focus or concentrate, you may even struggle to stay awake throughout your demanding day. Challenges that once excited you are now anxiety-inducing and catapult you into a state of low mood and depression.
How are we expected to deal with this, and, perhaps more importantly, how can our workplaces support us through this difficult time of physical and mental challenges, that can last for many years? Thankfully, there is a lot that can be done:
Once seen as a luxury, this is now becoming the norm, with many workplaces offering hybrid working as standard. This could help menopausal women to create a better work-life balance which could assist with the tiredness menopause can bring, particularly as it saves on commuting time.
Having the ability to work remotely could also be incredibly helpful for women experiencing the dreaded hot flushes. I’ve seen women in the workplace switch on their desktop fan, throw open the windows and start stripping off due to the sudden overwhelming feeling of burning up.
Menopause is completely natural and women shouldn’t feel ashamed of doing whatever is necessary to alleviate the symptoms. It is understood, however, that not everyone is comfortable doing this as it draws unwanted attention.
Imagine you are mid-meeting – or worse still, presenting or chairing that meeting – and you may find your sudden hot flush disrupts your flow of thought. You may feel uncomfortable if you aren’t able to stop and stand near an open window. Having the freedom to work from home means you can allow the flush to pass without worry or concern. If you are presenting online, you could request a back-up person be placed on standby in case you need to take time out. Zoom allows shared hosting meaning someone else can step in and take over the controls if needed.
This could also be helpful as the symptoms can be shared throughout the company, ensuring everyone understands what may be the cause of their female coworkers' unusual lateness, forgetfulness or inability to concentrate. Many people remain unaware of the mental health impact the menopause brings and this could be dangerous if companies don’t understand the reasons behind a sudden drop in performance.
Having a policy is beneficial for managers who have direct reports who are menopausal. Instead of applying a capability process to manage underperformers and risking a lot of trouble for penalising someone with a condition containing symptoms that could be classed as a disability, it could be understood that any underperformance of women at peri-menopausal or menopausal age may relate to the menopause, and considering reasonable adjustments. It should also be understood that some women enter into early menopause, so age isn’t the only indicator – this could be included in any such policy.
The most important thing HR professionals can do is speak to our colleagues and peers, putting the menopause firmly on the table as it affects so many of us. For too long, it hasn’t been spoken about and I hate to think of the number of women who have been penalised at work for something beyond their control. It’s time to speak up and be heard.
Sarah Hamilton-Gill is a coach and mentor for people professionals and the HR panel member for Menopause Experts