A common lable in the workplace, the term “Menopause Brenda” is highly offensive and stereotypical. This sort of negative generalising is the one of the reasons menopause remains taboo as it brings forth images of a fifty-something woman, with bad hair, who’s constantly in a bad mood, noticeably gaining weight and can’t make her mind up whether she’s too hot or too cold and ……….who nobody dares speak to.
And while those may be some of the traits you’ve heard about or even witnessed within your workplace, I want you to have a clear understanding of what its really like to be Brenda, how she’s being grossly misrepresented and more importantly how, if you “buy into” this false persona along with the jokes; your workplace may become unnecessarily toxic and what’s more liable to prosecution, due to misinformation and misunderstanding.
Aged 44 Brenda had been in perimenopause for 2 years. Yes, it all started for her at age 42. Two years on, her symptoms are at their peak and have been for around 6 weeks. Her particular symptoms include:
- Dry and itchy skin all over her body
- Brain fog
- Loss of concentration
- Night sweats
- Day time hot flushes
- loss of confidence due to all of the above
Up until the last 6 weeks Brenda’s symptoms had been presenting in isolation and while debilitating at times, she had managed to hide much of what was happening to her, during the hours she was at work.
By now though her symptoms had developed into a perfect storm. In other words, they were all beginning to present at the same time. Not necessarily in the same order every day, but she was experiencing every symptom at some point, every day.
On the day that Brenda describes as one of the worst days in her life: She had not slept at all the night before and in fact, had not slept much in the previous 6 weeks. Her husband was in the spare room so he could get proper rest because he too had to go to work and as Brenda explained: I’m up and down all night so there’s no point in us both being exhausted”
The day began with her taking a shower as usual. Once she got out of the shower, but before leaving the bathroom, she was overtaken by a hot flush wich saturated her whole body, so she stepped back into the shower. This added around 10 extra minutes to her routine. She left the bathroom and got as far as putting her make up on when another flush hit.
Soaked again with her make up streaked and her body on fire she opened the window and lay on the bed until she cooled down. That took around another 15 minutes during which she’d become light-headed due to the effects of extreme and sudden heat. Off she went back to the shower, another 10 minutes, but with a big day ahead of her she had to. She couldn’t and wouldn’t start work with the residue of a hot flush permeating her hair and clothing and later you’ll discover why she couldn’t phone in sick or go in a little later that day.
By now she was feeling exhausted as is common after a bout of flushes and with multiple showers and attempts at getting dressed, all on the back of sleepless nights, she was feeling pretty wiped out, and this was only the start of her day.
A very significant day that would see her company sign a contract they’d been working on for months and in which she, as a senior manager, had played a significant role. Today was the day, she would give her final presentation, the client would sign and the team would celebrate. Presenting came easy to Brenda. She’d done it for years and she did it extremely well. The team loved her as did the clients, many of whom she’d brought to the table and as a result added significant revenue to the companies bottom line.
This time though she’d struggled to memorise her presentation. She’d spent hours and hours going over it, practicing and preparing, and in doing so noticed she was having to spend great chunks of time on this because her capacity to retain information had dropped off significantly. In truth, she was having to work twice as hard just to retain her normal level of competence. It was a concern but she was a seasoned pro, she’d be fine on the day.
At 11 am all parties were present in the board room. Greetings and preamble complete it was time for Brenda to present: She heard the introduction….. and as she left her seat to take to the floor she realised she wasn’t actually moving……… she glanced around the room and could see people smiling and nodding at her in anticipation, but for some reason she remained in her seat. As she attempted to stand up again, the floor felt like it was moving beneath her feet forcing her to reach forward and grab the desk, sure she was about to fall.
She could hear voices and see faces but nothing was making sense. Burning up she felt light-headed again and very scared. Unable to speak she knew her mouth was moving but nothing was coming out…… not a sound. Eventually and mercifully the client suggested a short break and as Brenda now recalls, it was obviously to find out what the hell was going on. In the meantime, she was assisted to her private office by a colleague who got her some water and instructed her to stay put while she composed herself. The colleague came back after a few moments and asked Brenda how she was feeling?
In the grip of yet another flush, Brenda could barely respond and her appearance said it all. Her hair was running with perspiration as was her face and chest. Her shirt was soaked and all she wanted to do was lie down. She stayed in her office for another half an hour until eventually, another colleague offered to take her home………. in the meantime the meeting went ahead without her.
The following day in an urgent meeting called by the CEO to which she was the only person invited, she learned they’d won the contract (not surprising given her long term commitment to winning the client) and on the spot, she was offered a period of “ garden leave” commencing forthwith).
Feeling beyond humiliated from the day before and given her current level of exhaustion she took it without question and resolved to use the time to consider her future. In the following days she found out the company had held a champagne dinner to celebrate the new client…. a celebration to which she was not invited.
Over the next 6 months, Brenda was managed out of her post by a company she had served for 24 years. She was a senior manager for god’s sake with 24 years of learning and experience under her belt. Until this point, she’d had an exemplary record, won numerous industry awards and was the best ambassador her company could wish for.
But there is a flip side to this……. as a senior manager Brenda herself was well aware there was no company policy within her organisation for managing menopause in the workplace. There was no dedicated menopause nurse or advocate to whom she could turn. Admittedly she wouldn’t turn to HR for support feeling she would be compromised for showing weakness and for possibly drawing attention to her “presumed” advancing age because at 44 she was experiencing menopause.
On the other hand, this company had no idea how to help or support Brenda through this natural, albeit at times, inconvenient transition. Nor did they have an understanding that Brenda would eventually come through the other side with all of her competencies fully intact and with a renewed vitality that would likely see her add even more to her companies reputation as well as their bottom line. And they certainly didn’t understand that by treating her in this way they were in breach of the UK Equality Act 2010.
In the end, Brenda did return to work for a new company after taking a year off, not before instigating an employment tribunal hearing for constructive dismissal, for which the company settled out of court, in Brenda’s favour, subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
It’s a sad and costly fact, both human and financial, that all of this could have been avoided with some workplace training and the implementation of a “menopause in the workplace policy” which would have protected both Brenda and the company.
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