Coaching Through the Menopause
All women will be affected by the menopause at some stage in their life and to differing degrees. A study for the British Occupational Health Research Foundation found that nearly half of women find it difficult to cope with work during this time. Almost half of respondents felt their job performance had been negatively impacted by menopausal symptoms, but there was very little awareness among employers as a potential occupational health issue. In fact there is little awareness within the female population until symptoms start during peri-menopause.
Why raising this issue is so important for women AND business
* The number of economically active women aged 50+ stands at some 4.2 million in UK.
* In the past 20 years, over-50s have accounted for 72% of the growth in women’s employment.
* Total female representation on FTSE 100 boards has almost doubled from 12.5 per cent to 23.5 per cent since the first annual report from Lord Davies of Abersoch was published in 2011.
* Over one-third (35%) of legislators, senior officials, and managers are women
These trends are good news however positioned in a context where women are taking on more responsibility for caring for elderly relatives, and might still have children of school age - managing the physical and mental symptoms of menopause become an imperative not a life-stage to avoid. The potential impact on productivity, performance and engagement is not an issue that business can ignore either.
Many women said that they found discussing the menopause with their employer to be embarrassing, especially if they were managed by a man.  Women still do not tend to disclose the fact that they are menopausal to their managers; however they would like their managers to be more aware of the issue. Because the menopause is still a taboo subject for many people, women included it seems, the menopause itself can be a very isolating experience. It is why providing support and resources is essential.
In my work as a coach, the women I work with tend to come to coaching because of other issues:
feelings of not being able to cope with workload and outside pressures
tiredness which is impacting on productivity and quality of work
low tolerance to stress
irritability affecting team and other relationships
feeling demoralised at work
In some cases it’s been about deciding whether to leave or find less demanding work to fit around their physical and mental symptoms. For executives and senior managers, it often shows up as challenges around identity and ‘getting found out’ as not being able to cut it despite having had a highly successful career up to that point.
“I would actually be very worried that people would think that my work performance was not up to scratch, which it isn’t. I am not performing as well as I used to, I am sure. I would be worried about that and I would think that somebody might pick up on it, might criticise me for it () So, you know, it’s quite an anxiety” (Respondent to survey, aged 54)
Like their symptoms, no two women’s needs are the same. Most clients start out with a broad range of objectives; it’s not until we really start working holistically at the whole person level, that menopausal issues become apparent. We still don’t appear to be able to talk about this issue freely and frankly – anywhere, let alone at work.
In my experience, coaching can support working women in the following ways:
Sounding board and ‘normalisation’:
It’s not until clients start talking about it that they realise how their symptoms have been affecting their ability to function at work. As a menopausal woman myself, when this arises in coaching, clients are usually relieved to find out that they are not on their own and that there can be a way forward too.
Safe space to discuss their concerns and plan strategies for action:
Coaching is about helping clients find a way forward in a non-judgemental way. Any actions are co-created through careful questioning, mapping, or using other creative solutions appropriate to their situation and their personal needs.
For one client this was about making sure that she attended the gym to alleviate stress and support better sleeping, for another creating quiet space in work time to reflect away from distractions which improved irritability levels, and with another client getting an appointment with her GP to discuss medication. For most it’s about re-connecting with their strengths, their passions, and articulating their contribution – despite the symptoms – to enable confidence.
Clients are often not aware of how the physical symptoms can impact on their work. Lack of sleep, low mood and depression, and poor concentration will exacerbate the inability to cope. It is important to stress self-care, and mental and physical well-being; often this can be about letting go of ingrained expectations of what is ‘good enough’. It is also about understanding that sleep, diet and exercise are the foundations to great resilience. We usually start there before we even look to other areas of their life.
It’s no wonder that women are leaving corporate life in their thousands – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Encouraging women to have more open conversations with their line manager about flexible working is essential. Working different patterns which take into account periods of tiredness can help. Recognising that workloads and working hours might also need to be managed differently to accommodate peaks and troughs in energy levels.
Identity and Acceptance:
One ‘normalising’ approach I use is discussing the Kubler-Ross Change Curve and William Bridges’ model of transition (see model above). It helps to explain the various different stages of change and how it might impact emotionally.
Making space for grieving and letting go is a hugely important part of the process. For me I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t feel old enough. It took some time to re-configure my identity in this new ‘normal’. For one client it was about acceptance of what it meant to be her and letting go of some of the stories she was telling herself about her past identity and how that was preventing her realisation of who she was now. As Jung would say it was a process of individuation and putting herself back together again.
To help clients progress to new beginnings, I might encourage them to thinking about:
What do you want from life now and in the future?
What brings you joy?
How has this change impacted positively?
How might this experience enable a different contribution in your life/career?
What do you want your legacy to be?
A Renewed Interest in the Future:
Although health and physical capacity can deteriorate as we get older, several other functions improve with age. A report for the European Agency for safety and health at work stated “Mental growth is the success story of ageing. For example, strategic thinking, sharp-wittedness, considerateness, wisdom, ability to deliberate, ability to rationalise, control of life, holistic perception and language skills improve with age”.
Through coaching women can reconnect with their strengths, regain confidence in their capabilities and create patterns of work that best serve them and their employers. The benefits for both women and employers are building confidence, retention, sustainable working patterns, long-term career development, well-being and performance.
If you’d like a discussion about any of the issues raised in this article please contact Jayne Harrison, Leadership Transitions Coach on 07775 532942.
 FTSE Boards Double Intake of Women - April 11, 2015/in News /by Coaching at Work
 The World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2015 (2015)
 Survey carried out for the British Occupational Health Research Foundation in 2010
 Survey carried out for the British Occupational Health Research Foundation in 2010
 Women aged 45-54 suffer more stress and depression than all other age groups: HR Review, April 1, 2014
Age Immaterial Women Over 50 Report: https://www.tuc.org.uk/…/Age_Immaterial_Women_Over_50_Repor…
Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in the Labour Force in the UK. New York: Catalyst, August 9, 2016. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-workforce-uk
Coaching at Work, Volume 9, issue 1
Commission on Older Women Report: https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/…/Commission_on_Older…
Office for National Statistics – Labour Market Statistics, January 2017