It’s Time To Address Menopause at Work

 A mature woman sits at her desk with her hands clasped together in a confident manner

DEIB Diversity & Inclusion Generations at Work Women in the Workplace

Supporting women with menopausal symptoms can have a positive impact on both employee well-being, retention and the bottom line of your business.

If you’re not a woman approaching your 50s, you may be wondering why you need to read further. But here’s the thing: Women with menopause are the fastest-growing workplace demographic.

According to the Labor Bureau of Statistics (LBS), menopause-age women account for almost 30% of the U.S. labor force. The LBS projects that the labor force participation rate for women will continue to increase faster than the average rate for all occupations.

At the same time, women are leaving the workforce because of menopausal symptoms. In a 2022 survey by Biote, 4 out of every 10 women experienced menopause symptoms that interfered with their work performance or productivity on a weekly basis. Seventeen percent have quit a job or considered quitting due to menopause symptoms.

But women who grapple with menopause rarely find workplace support, official company guidelines, or a sympathetic ear. Employees experiencing menopause in the workplace need to know their employer has their back. Without the necessary resources and support, your business runs the risk of losing some of your most senior and skilled employees.

Why employers need to support menopause in the workplace

Women experiencing menopausal symptoms are usually in their 40s and 50s. They’re among your most seasoned leaders. They bring years of experience, wisdom, and institutional knowledge to their roles, often serving as mentors and role models to newer staff.

Keeping and supporting them is vital to leading successful teams, and building diversity and inclusion in the workplace, which leads to greater innovation.

Without the necessary resources and support, your business runs the risk of losing some of your most senior and skilled employees.

“We need to know the organization recognizes, talks about, and openly and unapologetically provides support and resources without us having to disclose,” says Kim Clark, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) communications speaker and consultant.

Why menopausal women leave the workforce

Menopause often happens around the age of 50, but the years leading up to menopause, called perimenopause, can be filled with numerous physical, emotional, and mental symptoms that range in severity and duration.

Women can struggle with hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, weight gain, joint pain, anxiety, depression, memory problems, poor concentration, and mood swings. Many women find the effects so draining and unbearable that they can’t leave the house, much less work productively.

It’s challenging enough to be an older worker in a company culture that prizes younger employees. When menopausal women aren’t simply ignored, they’re frequently the punchline.

“We can understand why women would try to downplay their symptoms of menopause to avoid the crass, insensitive, inappropriate jokes,” Kim says.

Menopausal symptoms might be a topic of concern and conversation among close girlfriends, but it’s taboo among polite company. It’s certainly not the norm in everyday offices, where many women don’t feel comfortable approaching their colleagues and superiors to explain how hot flashes and brain fog are now impacting their formerly stellar work performance.

They fear discrimination in the form of less meaningful work, fewer promotions, and training opportunities — even dismissal.

How to discuss menopause in the workplace

Menopause is different for everyone. Women should be allowed both “the freedom to talk about it, and not talk about it as well,” Kim says.

Employers must build an inclusive and open company culture to help women feel comfortable enough to speak about their menopause symptoms. They need to educate staff on how to approach this topic with understanding, discretion, and sensitivity.

“The  company culture and systems need to first be clear on permission to talk about menopause, followed by manager training in context with health and employee well-being, including physical, mental, and emotional experiences,” Kim says. “Storytelling can help foster and set the tone for communication.”

She points to countries such as Australia and the U.K. that are more open about menopause. Spain recently became the first European nation to give workers paid leave for debilitating menstrual symptoms. Institutional awareness “helps men have more empathy and understanding. Not talking about it plays into microaggressions around women being too emotional or angry.”

You can apply this same openness to professional settings. Normalize the topic of menopause so women feel safe to speak and ask for temporary and reasonable adjustments. This doesn’t mean employees should be forced into unwanted discussions, but they should know where to go for assistance.

Sharing educational articles and resources internally demonstrates your company is aware of issues surrounding workplace menopause, comfortable adapting to them, and ready to support affected employees.

“Have systemic and cultural accountability in the organization to ensure those who participate in the jokes or ageist behavior when someone discloses are managed and held accountable,” Kim says.

Business benefits of supporting women with menopausal symptoms

1. Improved employee retention and engagement

We know it costs more to recruit and train a new employee than to retain an existing. A more inclusive and supportive workplace can lead to improved employee retention as women are more likely to stay with an employer that values their well-being. Without workplace flexibility and considerate managers, the cost of absences and missed work adds up quickly.

2. Increased productivity

By providing support and accommodations, such as flexible work arrangements or time off for a doctor’s appointment, businesses can help women manage these symptoms and maintain their productivity.

3. Better employee health

Menopause can increase the risk of health problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease. By providing support and resources for women going through menopause, businesses can help them manage these health risks and maintain their overall health and well-being.

4. Improved workplace morale

Creating a supportive workplace culture that values the well-being of all employees can improve workplace morale and create a more positive work environment for everyone.

How to support women with menopause in the workplace

Lead with compassion and empathy when it comes to menopause and workplace matters. Here are seven steps to take for a more inclusive and supportive employee experience for women:

1. Appoint a menopause champion/specialist within your organization 

Designate a willing, informed employee to be the point person on menopause transition issues. They can help make difficult conversations easier by serving as an advocate and also give guidance to colleagues still learning how to discuss menopause in the workplace.

2. Draft a formal menopause policy for your company

This raises awareness among employees, shows managers how to make modifications, and signals to all staffers that they should feel safe bringing their concerns forward. Encourage privacy and discretion through a general, health-related category of support so women don’t have to disclose such personal information.

3. Reassess your employee benefits

Does the health insurance cover hormone replacement therapy? What about testing and treating low bone density and heart health, two risk factors that directly impact menopausal women? Permit employees to take medical appointments during work hours.

Offer menstrual/menopause paid leave, and report it separately from other absences. The Bank of Ireland, for example, allows employees experiencing menopausal symptoms up to 10 paid days off per year. Maven Clinic (No. 1 on the Best Workplaces in Health Care List for small and medium-sized businesses) pairs menopausal women with suitable providers through its digital health platform.

4. Allow flexible working arrangements

Employees exhausted in the middle of the day may still perform well at dawn and midnight, so allow temporary schedule adjustments and remote work as needed for workplace flexibility. For shift workers, frequent bathroom breaks and longer periods of rest can make a huge difference. Modify workloads. Create a private, quiet rest area for employees who can’t work at home.

5. Adapt the workplace environment to support women

Can you provide a desk fan or allow an employee to move directly under an air-conditioning vent or near a window she can open? Due to sudden hot flashes, menopausal women benefit greatly from being able to control their own microclimate.

If your company has a uniform or dress code, make the fabric breathable or relax the code. Avoid white uniform bottoms and ensure back-up clothing is available.

6. Provide support through professional training and ERGs

Teach senior leaders and line managers about menopause symptoms and how they can hinder daily job functions. Encourage staff to lead discussions about menopause and workplace issues, but don’t make any assumptions or requirements.

A great way for people to openly share in a safe space is through a Women Employee Resource Group (ERG), which also allows executive leadership and HR to do some employee listening.

7. Evaluate your hiring practices

“Being wary of hiring older women because there's a possibility of menopause” is similar to the prejudice younger women who may become pregnant face, Kim says. It’s critical to consider whether this sort of hiring manager bias exists in your organization, and seek ways to prevent it.

Menopause is “a real experience for half of the population and companies need to recognize the impact on women's health,” Kim says. “I can tell you from research, people I know, and from my own experience, it's different for everyone, from mild to severe symptoms, and nothing to take lightly.”

With employee retention – especially of experienced workers – at the top of mind, there is a tremendous urgency and opportunity for employers to act on supporting women going through menopause in the workplace.

Are you taking a deliberate approach to account for the shifting demographics of your workforce?

There's no question that leveraging data analytical tools can help you gain a more nuanced understanding of how your employee population is evolving, offering insights that can inform and improve your employee experience.

Through comprehensive employee surveys and data analysis, Great Place To Work Certification™ details precisely how and where you should invest to strengthen your support for all women and all ages and prevent your best talent from leaving.

Claire Hastwell