Are you worried that your perimenopause symptoms may be affecting your productivity or relationships at work? Executive coach and menopause specialist, Anna Allerton, has all the advice you need for having constructive conversations about your experience
Whether hot flushes and disrupted sleep are getting in the way of work, or your confidence has taken a big knock since you’ve entered perimenopause – opening up about something this personal at work can be daunting.
The research so far acknowledges how difficult these conversations can be, with a review by the Menopause Society discovering that nearly half of women find perimenopause and menopause too embarrassing to talk about in the workplace. Then, there’s the landmark study by the Fawcett Society , which has found that 41% of women have seen menopause symptoms treated as a joke by people at work.
“I think there are deeper layers to this embarrassment and fear,” says Anna Allerton , Jennis Executive Coach and perimenopause specialist. “We worry about what it’s going to do to our personal brand, how it’s going to affect our opportunities to progress and whether we’ll be written off.”
“The thing I want to get across to any women reading this,” says Anna, “is that having conversations about your experience and symptoms with your line managers or people you manage can be hugely helpful, empowering and confidence-building."
How to approach conversations with your boss about perimenopause
It’s helpful to speak your manager’s language around the need for high performance and productivity. “Presenting the data and suggesting solutions is a smart approach, and shows that you want to collaborate on a plan to help you thrive in your job,” says Anna.
Having conversations about your experience and symptoms can be hugely helpful and confidence-building
In the same way that you’d prepare for any other meeting, think about this rationally. Try to take emotion out of it (as best you can) and do your preparation and research beforehand so that you feel empowered from the get-go.
Here are some pointers that will help you do just that…
1. Be clear about what you want from the meeting
Before you go into the meeting, make sure you think about your objectives and what you want to get out of it. “Do you just need to tell your boss what’s going on because it’s proving a distraction, or do you actually want some measures put in place temporarily? If so, look at the data you have from mapping your symptoms and see where you most need support or flex.”
During the meeting, be clear on the outcome you’re looking for. “You could start by explaining that you want to talk about your perimenopause, that you want to share some confidential information about your experience and that you have some suggestions for working more effectively.”
Confidently presenting the data and suggesting solutions is a smart approach and shows that you want to collaborate on a plan to help you thrive
You don’t need to be cold and clinical but keeping it more transactional can help you put your case forward and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
2. Use data to help build a proposal
“If you’re tracking your symptoms (and I really urge every woman to do this), it is always helpful to have some stats and facts to hand about your experience,” says Anna.
For example, if you know that you get very anxious mid-month, or you experience heavy flooding (very heavy periods), you might ask to work from home on those days. Or, if you know that disrupted sleep is a thing, you might ask to start and finish a little later. “Suggest trialling the new set-up for 3 months and then coming back together for feedback.”
3. Do your wider research first
“Before you go into any meetings or discussions, look at what your workplace offers,” says Anna. “If there’s a menopause policy, read and digest it. Ask your People team any questions you have and understand the role your manager has in this so that you know how to organise your thoughts and requests.”
“We know that 60% of workplaces don’t offer specific menopause support,” says Anna. “So, if there isn’t a policy, the onus is unfortunately on you to present your case and what you need."
4. Book a personal meeting
”Make sure that your line manager knows that this is something personal by saying something like: ’I have a personal issue that I’d like to discuss.’ This way, they can give you the right time and space. Making them aware will help them mentally prepare and be in a better headspace to receive the information and react sensitively.”
5. Try role-playing
“Rehearsing the conversation and imagining the responses you’ll get back can be calming,” says Anna. It’s also helpful for mentally preparing yourself. It’s normal to feel emotional when talking about your experience, so it’s also helpful to prepare yourself in the same way that you would for any outcome-focused meeting.
6. Take notes
In the heat of the moment, your brain can draw a blank, especially if you’ve got brain fog or you are low on confidence. So, embrace your notes. Prep some notes beforehand, including what you want to cover and get across – this will help you explain yourself clearly and methodically. Then, record the key action points during the discussion. This will help you process the information afterwards and will hold both yourself and your boss accountable.
7. Be clear on what you want from your boss
In the same way that you might wrap up a meeting, be clear on the resolution and takeaways.
“Have you decided that you want your manager just to be aware of what you’re going through? Or have you agreed to add in a bit more one-to-one time so that you feel supported? If you’ve agreed to tweak your work setup to help manage your symptoms, be really clear and summarise this at the end, so that you’re both clear on the action points,” suggests Anna. “Then make sure that you schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss the impact of the changes.”
What if my boss is tricky or unapproachable?
If you know that your boss isn’t great at dealing with personal matters, there are a few things you can do to help the conversation be a positive one. First up, if you lead with the rational, data-driven approach outlined above, there’s a good chance you’ll be speaking their language already.
Your manager might need to learn about perimenopause and this might mean they have their guard up. Reassuring them that it’s okay if they don’t know and that they can ask you any questions will help them feel like a part of the conversation. “Saying that, it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to open up about everything for their benefit, only do what feels comfortable for you,” says Anna.
There’s no need to walk on eggshells, but keeping things collaborative can be helpful. “Rather than going in guns blazing, try using gentler language like, ‘I have some ideas that I want to collaborate with you on,’ or ‘I think we could create something really helpful together,’” suggests Anna.
Secondly, lean into the allies you have around you. If there’s another colleague you admire or respect, talk to them first. “There’s nothing wrong with taking someone in with you,” says Anna. “Just ask your boss beforehand and explain that you’d appreciate this extra person’s input or that you’ve found a great ally and you’d love them to join.
How to tackle the ‘it wasn’t that bad for me’ views from senior female colleagues
Just because your boss is female, it doesn’t mean they’re going to understand your experience or empathise better. “You tend to see this attitude more in male-dominated environments,” says Anna. “Some women feel that if they’ve worked hard to get to the top, they don’t need to send that lift back down.”
Doing it on your own terms during what can be a tough time, could be a weight off your shoulders
“My take is – don’t bother trying to convert them, preserve your time and energy for talking to the audience that’s with you. Again, though, data can help – you can’t argue with the fact that 25% of women are experience debilitating perimenopause symptoms.
Using some of the strategies above from our difficult boss section could be really helpful here. Plus, try highlighting that you’re not looking for an excuse to take it easy or have time off, you’re just trying to figure out more efficient ways of working so they can get the best out of you.
What about talking to my colleagues?
Should you explain your symptoms and struggles to your team? “This depends on your leadership style and how you usually communicate with your team,” says Anna.
“If you’re usually open and supportive with your team, there’s no reason why not. I’ve heard of great experiences of women sharing with their teams and feeling like their colleagues understand them that much better.”
Keep it simple and transparent, either during your one-to-ones or your team meeting – ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard about perimenopause, but I’m experiencing it and this is how it’s manifesting for me,’ for example.
“You could highlight a couple of red flags that come up for you so that your team are aware and you can lean on them a bit more sometimes.
“As an example, you might forget people’s names because of brain fog – if that’s the case for you and you do lots of pitches at work, you could highlight this to your team and get them to support you in making introductions and agenda points.”
Or, it might be as simple as making them aware that hot flushes can catch you off guard and you may need to subtly exit meetings to get some fresh air every now and again.
If you’re able to talk about it with your team, this can help to reduce the taboo generally and you could also help to change things for the next generation – think of the power of saying this to someone junior and the example you’re setting for when they approach this lifestage.
The key takeaway
“From my own personal experience, I remember feeling rudderless and not in control of anything during perimenopause,” says Anna. “But talking to colleagues at work was the one thing I could take control of,” says Anna. “Doing it on your terms during what can be a tough time, could be a weight off your shoulders and will almost certainly make your life easier in the long term.”
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