Many women struggle to talk to their bosses about how perimenopause and menopause is affecting their work. This woman did and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
Looking back now, it’s easy for Rebecca Clancy (pictured) to see that her symptoms were the result of perimenopause. Crippling anxiety. Broken sleep. Lack of self-confidence. Panic attacks. Heart palpitations. At the time though, she blamed a stressful job on her emotional and physical turmoil.
Her breaking point came when she was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. She was 46 years old. All tests came back normal, and doctors told her that what she had likely suffered was a panic attack.
But Rebecca was spooked enough by the experience to decide to step away from her senior role at Melbourne Water and take up a job in another department with less responsibility.
Within a year she was back to where she had started.
I began getting really anxious again and felt overwhelmed by the work,” she recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m not able for it’.”
She struggled with the self-doubt, the lack of sleep, and the persistent palpitations. She and her husband discussed her quitting work altogether.
And then she had a conversation with a friend. It proved to be one of the most enlightening of her life.
She asked if I was perimenopausal,” remembers Rebecca. “I had never even heard of it.”
She did her research – Jean Hailes was one of her sources – and she began to understand that her symptoms were a common experience for women during perimenopause. She then decided to talk to her manager, George, about the difficulties she was experiencing at work because of it.
That was a high stakes gamble for a woman in the workplace. In a survey last year, 70% of women who had experienced menopause said they would not feel comfortable talking to their manager about their challenges or needs.
Rebecca broke that mould. And she was delighted she did.
“It was such a positive experience,” Rebecca says. “He was so open to the conversation and made no judgements. We discussed reasonable work adjustment and support that I could seek.”
Encouraged by his response, she decided to share her story on Melbourne Water’s Intranet. What began as one woman’s personal story became everyone’s story.
The response was amazing,” she recalls. “It sparked so many conversations at work and I was approached by men who had wives, girlfriends or team members who were going through the change.”
The momentum for more open discussion began to build. More than 100 staff attended an online awareness session where Rebecca again shared her story about the challenges she faced during menopause. One of her most concerning was a rage she felt bubbling inside.
“I had been hanging up the phone on colleagues because I couldn’t deal with the conversations,” she says. “I just felt this rage inside. I tried to manage my menopausal symptoms with herbal remedies but when I got to the rage point, I knew I had to speak to my doctor about my options.”
Overseen by her GP, Rebecca’s symptoms are now managed with an integrated approach, using menopausal hormone therapy (MHT, also known as hormonal replacement therapy or HRT) and herbal remedies.
Despite her own positive journey in the work setting, Rebecca understands why women might be reluctant to discuss the impact of menopause with their managers.
I think women have a fear of being labelled,” she says. “There could also be the fear of being overlooked for things like a promotion or a big project if they declare that they’re going through menopause."
“Disclosing how they feel or what they are going through – I think many women have a fear of doing that in the workplace. What we really need is to start the conversation and to create awareness and training for managers.
“The conversation should centre on the best opportunities that can be provided for women going through the transition.”
Rebecca believes in the power of female friendships.
I think it’s very important to share stories,” she explains. “Knowing that other women go through similar experiences with menopause can be really helpful."
Now 51, Rebecca has a deep understanding that the woman she was once is going through a change, and she is accepting of it.
“I now recognise what these changes are all about and I have strategies in place to navigate my way through the wonderful, forever changing and unpredictable cycle of this life phase."