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The Impacts of Menopause in the Workplace

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Five women are seated around a white board table having a discussion.  There are large windows along one wall and you can see another office building through the windows.  There is also a TV on the wall.  The women have laptops, notepads and drinks by them.

Are you one of the many women who feel confused, overwhelmed, and unsure of how to navigate the changes associated with perimenopause but don't feel comfortable discussing the topic with friends or colleagues? You're not alone.

Many women struggle with addressing symptoms of menopause due to lack of education and support around this natural time of transition. And this struggle continues in the workplace. Employers are often unaware of how this phase of a woman's life may alter her productivity, motivation, and physical and mental health.

We recently hosted Lesley Salem, Founder of Over the Bloody Moon, on our Beyond the Paper Gown podcast. Salem's organization focuses on menopause support and education in the workplace and in school, in an effort to break down the barriers that women face while going through this phase of their lives.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is a natural point of aging for women that signals the ending of menstrual cycles and fertility. From a medical standpoint, diagnosis occurs once a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. While the average age for menopause is 51, it typically occurs in women in their forties or fifties. It is marked by the stage when the ovaries drastically slow the production of estrogen and progesterone [1].

The decline in these reproductive hormones occurs during perimenopause and can cause various symptoms, both emotional and physical. Typical symptoms include hot flashes, lower libido, moodiness, vaginal dryness, reduced energy levels, and weight gain. As hormone levels continue to decrease, the risk of other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis goes up and may require management [2].

All of these changes understandably can affect a woman's confidence in her personal life and the workplace.

Menopause in the Workplace

As women experience the changes associated with menopause, many may begin to feel more overwhelmed, and lack access to education and informed health care. Women's relationship with work has always been complicated due to competing obligations and responsibilities in their personal life. Menopause can often intensify these pressures to perform at work, which can lead to challenges and concerns for both women and their employers [3].

In a report by the Fawcett Society, survey results show that "around 80% say workplaces have no policies or help in place, and 45% avoid speaking to their physician due to stigma." [4] This stigma may cause women to feel isolated and unsure where to get help, exacerbating their symptoms. Because of this, they often struggle to balance work, personal life, and the uncharted territory of menopause.

It’s not uncommon for women to experience menopause during a critical time in their career. According to the Harvard Business Review, "Menopause usually occurs between ages 45 and 55 – which is also the age bracket during which women are most likely to move into top leadership positions." [5] Regarding economic impacts, employers without menopause-informed policies can face a workforce that may struggle to perform at the expected pace and level. Because menopause can also be medically-induced due to a hysterectomy, cancer treatments, or removal of ovaries, an employer's Human Resource department may not be aware of n how these conditions or procedures could impact their length of treatment and their well-being. Salem remarked, "This is really important for HR because they might receive a request for somebody to have cancer treatment or a hysterectomy, and they might not appreciate that this person will go into instant estrogen withdrawal."

Strategies to Navigate Menopause in the Workplace

Cultivating a menopause-friendly workplace includes creating policies related to menopause and reducing stigma through educational resources and support groups for menopausal women. Based on her company's research, Salem shared, "What we found was that women that talk about menopause are much more likely to describe their menopause symptoms as light or not noticeable at all. Whereas the women that are masking it are more likely to feel stressed."

Networking and support groups can help women feel more empowered during the transformative time of menopause and make more effective health care choices.

Additionally, employers can accommodate menopausal women by focusing on the importance of employee-wellbeing. Ideas can take the form of wellness programs that provide resources on health care solutions, exercise challenges, mental health, nutrition, and stress reduction. In addition, employers may incorporate policies such as flexible schedules and work-from-home options that can help menopausal women manage their overall well-being and productivity. Employers may benefit from these policies and programs through continued productivity, reduced absenteeism, and greater employee satisfaction [5].

When menopausal women have more support in the workplace, we are more capable of meeting our expectations and thriving in our careers. Compassionate health care and support from our loved ones during this time can ease the menopausal transition and enable a more productive way of coping. To learn more about menopause in the workplace, tune in to our podcast episode with Lesley Salem.


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