For decades, even centuries, women have suffered in silence during what may be the most successful years of their careers, enduring symptoms such as hot flashes, brain fog and mood swings. These symptoms were minimized, misunderstood, unnoticed and unacknowledged. But as older millennials hit perimenopause and menopause, that’s set to change. The topic of menopause is starting to enter the conversation, and workplace leadership is taking notice, as they should: Around 15 million women are working full-time in the U.S. between the ages of 45-60, roughly the average age range for menopause, according to a Mayo Clinic survey.
“The average age of menopause is 51 years and symptoms become prevalent up to 10 years prior to onset,” according to Catherine Hansen, MD, OB-GYN and telehealth MD at Pandia Health. “Midlife women over 40 are one of the fastest growing segments of the population. There are over 6,000 women entering menopause in the U.S. daily.”
In one study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that “around one-third of working women report significant difficulty coping with their menopausal symptoms at work.” The previously mentioned Mayo Clinic survey also revealed that menopause is having a “major negative impact” on this demographic and their workplace outcomes, calling for improved medical treatments and workplace support systems. In the survey, 10.8% of women reported that they had missed work due to symptoms during the year prior and 5.6% reported that they had reduced their hours within the last six months. Additionally, 1% of participants reported that they had left their jobs in the last six months, while 0.03% reported having been laid off in the same time frame.
Recently, all eyes have been on the battle to support perinatal workers, with initiatives for paid maternity leave and other supports, but 59% of parents in a Carrot Fertility survey said that “they felt more prepared for childbirth than menopause.”
“Hot flashes and night sweats are just two of the fun symptoms of menopause, and managing them can be as difficult as playing chess against a chess grandmaster. It’s one thing dealing with these symptoms at home, but it’s another thing altogether when you’re at work,” says Christi Pramudji, MD, a urologist and urogynecologist based in Houston, Texas. “So it begs the question: Should employers be willing to make concessions for women going through menopause?” She thinks so, after 20 years treating patients going through menopause.
Here’s how employers can help.
Learn the common symptoms of menopause in the workplace
If you yourself are not in menopause or headed there soon, you might wonder why you need to know about it. The reason is simple: your colleagues, bosses and team members might be, and the symptoms may impact their work and how they interact with others. A 2022 survey of nearly 950 women revealed that 31% of participants were dreading perimenopause/menopause, and 38.7% were accepting of it. Of those experiencing symptoms, the most common included mood swings (68.9%), brain fog (68.3%) and fatigue (66.8%). However, when asked “how informed they felt about the perimenopause/menopause before the age of 40,” 60.8% of participants felt “not informed at all,” with only 2.1% feeling “very informed.” If they themselves don’t know much about menopause, it’s likely their co-workers don’t either.
“Employers should learn about the physical and emotional changes that occur during menopause so that they can understand and manage their employees better. They need to understand the challenges that women may face in the workplace during this pivotal time of their lives,” Pramudji says. “This can include understanding physical and emotional symptoms as well as potential impacts on work performance and productivity.”
Seek out external resources
Nobody is asking their boss to become a menopause expert and singlehandedly address the workplace impacts of a natural biological process. But Pramudji says seeking out external resources for your employees can go a long way. “[Leaders can consider] consulting with healthcare professionals, partnering with women’s health organizations or seeking research and best practices in menopause management in the workplace,” she explains.
One of her clients, who wishes to remain anonymous, explains the impact menopause is having, and how their workplace could play a role in wellness: “With today’s cost of living, I really wish I had a healthcare plan that covered the cost of my hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It’s just one extra expense that I can’t really afford, but need!” she says. “I would love to explore alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga, but again, it’s an additional expense that would place further strain on my finances. I feel that women are penalized for being women—menopause is a natural phase of most women’s lives. Why do we not have more support from medical aid?”
Validate menopause symptoms as a reason to take time off
Lara Smith, based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is the founder of two brands, SOMÉ and Lusomé. She was working 80-plus hours per week in the height of her career building companies, when her menopause symptoms were at their most severe. “It was the brain fog and forgetfulness that I struggled with the most,” she recalls. “As an entrepreneur in growth mode, we wear so many hats and cross all the functions of operations, finance, sales, marketing and more. I didn’t have the mental capacity to keep it all straight. There was obviously a change happening mentally as well as physically, but it was harder to measure and diagnose.”
So, as a business leader, she validates this struggle for others as one of her three core values: wellness. “So if someone is not feeling their best for whatever reason, they know they can crawl into bed and catch up another day,” she says.
Support women who are on a medical journey
Sure, menopause is “natural.” But for some women, it may also feel like a major medical journey as they work to navigate and control symptoms with their healthcare team. For example, Hansen had a patient, age 47, who reported urinary burning, and had been overlooked by previous providers who didn’t ask enough questions:
“Susie was going on many months of sleepless nights and, through her tears, described exhaustion, irritability and poor coping skills related to interactions with her two teenagers, traveling husband and work colleagues. While her workplace was generally understanding, she had never felt so helpless and was usually the type of person who could push through and accomplish all her goals. This time was different. In addition to the extreme fatigue, she had started fighting with her partner about her low libido, had no patience for her children and was dumping all her energy into just getting by at work.”
By simply taking interest in your colleagues’ medical journeys and supporting them, to the extent they want to share, you may encourage a more compassionate workplace.
Create a supportive atmosphere for all menstruating team members, not just those in menopause
The mindset to empower workplace women in their wellness journeys starts before menopause, according to Arissan Nicole, a Seattle-based career coach for women in the workplace.
“The more we can destigmatize a woman’s body and the natural things that happen to those with a menstrual cycle throughout their life, the better,” she says. “However, talking about menopause culturally is much different than feeling safe to talk about it in your workplace. A lot of women don’t share when they are on their period because they don’t want their actions or feelings to be discounted or be labeled too emotional. Women hold off on sharing their pregnancy until the last possible minute in fear of the impact it will have on the future of their careers. Why then would women feel comfortable sharing they’re going through menopause?”
To best support women experiencing menopause in the workplace, Nicole says leaders should consider the following questions:
- What support do you have for those with excruciating periods?
- What’s your parental leave policy?
- How do you handle employees who have to be out suddenly because of a sick child?
- How are you making sure you have an inclusive environment that doesn’t retaliate against women for being women, no matter what life stage they are in?
- Are you including your employees when forming related policies and programs?
Tips for C-suite leaders living and working with menopause
C-suite leaders themselves might find that what was working for them before might work against them during menopause, according to Amanda Tracy, ND, a hormone expert based in Fairfield, California.
“I have seen many C-suite leaders with a pattern of early morning workouts, eating too few calories throughout the day, working into the late hours and fueling themselves with caffeine, and then winding down with wine at night,” she explains. “Our bodies can adapt to these habits with minimal effort and without a noticeable health effect until our hormones begin to change around the age of 40.” Instead, workplaces can foster a flexible work schedule where women can arrange their workloads around their energy levels. For some, this may mean a midafternoon break.
“Avoid highly interactive or strenuous work in the midafternoon hours. A midafternoon ‘white space’ break, meditation or a short walk outdoors are other ways to encourage employees to restore and reset energy levels,” Tracy says. In addition, try these wellness swaps:
- Swap your intense morning run for a slow to moderate-paced treadmill desk.
- Have a plant-based protein shake before leaving the office ahead of dinner, especially before an evening work event.
- Avoid too much caffeine after noon to minimize hot flashes and night sweats.
Smith adds, “Women [between the ages of] 45 to 55 are at the height of value in their experience, confidence, connection and wisdom, so if a business wants to attract the best C-suite leaders, they need to ensure the culture and policies are supportive of the needs of menopausal warriors.”