Don't 'meno'pause work

Don't 'meno'pause work

Earlier, most working women between the ages of 45 and 55 were at the tail end of their careers and were on a fast lane to retirement. Today, with increasing life spans, starting new careers and businesses mid-life and chasing new opportunities, the proportion of women in the age group of 50-64 with jobs has increased dramatically over the past 10-15 years. While workplaces are still evolving, in terms of maternity and other work-from-home benefits for women, it still retains one essential pitfall - the effect of working through menopause.

In India, nearly 4% of women experience signs of menopause between 29 and 34 years of age, while that figure goes up to 8% in case of women between the ages of 35 and 39 years, according to a study by The Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC). Women around the world normally reach menopause between the ages of 45-55, with a mean age of 51 years.

Considering that a large number of women in this age group are still in the workforce, it is essential for organisations to initiate programmes and strategies to help older women cope better with menopause. While the women should strive to ensure a healthy and balanced lifestyle to minimise the symptoms of menopause, employers and colleagues have to be more accommodative and considerate.

For that, one must understand what a woman goes through during menopause and how it affects her ability to work. Women experience various changes as menstrual cycles come to a stop. As women age, their ovaries start producing less of the two hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which regulate menstruation. Usually when a woman misses her periods for 12 consecutive months, it is considered as the onset of menopause.

Some of the most prominent symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, osteoporosis, sexual problems due to vaginal dryness, emotional issues such as mood swings and depression due to weight gain.

Menopausal women need to be well supported physically and emotionally at home as well as at work. Some women bear menopause quite well without any visible symptoms. Menopause may cause a lot of physical and emotional stress for women and being at work can make it even worse.

Eating a well-balanced diet that is rich in fibre and protein can help these women combat tiredness, stress and provide the stamina to overcome the difficulties they face at the workplace. Yoga, meditation and regular exercise is a good way to beat stress and to remain calm and relaxed.

Organisations that have women employees over 50 years have to be sensitive to the needs of menopausal women and foster a workplace culture where considerate colleagues will extend support at difficult times.

Here are some simple strategies that organisations can adopt to help the women cope with their menopausal symptoms in a better way:

* Counsellors at the workplace to help women going through emotional upheavals.
* Temperature control and increased ventilation in working areas to combat hot flashes
* Awareness programmes by doctors
* Group fitness activities such as yoga
* Promote social interaction through activities targeted at both older women and other employees

* Allow women more flexibility in terms of working hours and shifts
Menopause is no longer a personal issue for women. With 3.5 million women over the age of 50 working full-time, it is fast becoming an occupational health issue and should be treated as such.

(The author is consultant, Obstetrics and  Gynaecology, Motherhood Hospitals)

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