Although issues like pregnancy and infertility have begun to receive the attention they deserve in the workplace, menopause—another important topic in women's health—still faces significant stigma.
Fortunately, a host of new initiatives aimed at addressing the stigma surrounding menopause seem poised help address the challenges faced by those experiencing it. Specialized health benefits programs have the potential to guide menopausal women through this natural transition period.
Not only can menopause-related benefits provide care for those in need, but companies can also benefit from the added loyalty these programs build among their employees. Equally as important, employers may discover ways to reverse productivity losses from menopause that, in many cases, they never realized they had.
But specialized benefits represent just one part of the equation for employers looking to destigmatize menopause for their employees. Before we delve into ways you can help open healthy conversations about menopause, it's important to step back and understand the basics.
What is menopause?
Experts define menopause as the end of a 12-month phase when a menstruating person hasn't had their period. In a broader sense, it actually has three stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Combined, they represent the end of a person's reproductive years. Typically, it occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
1 billion women are expected to spend on average $2,000/year on menopause in 2025, including prescriptions, doctor visits, and treatments
What are common menopause symptoms?
Most women experience a broad range of menopause symptoms that impact both physical and mental health, and which vary depending on an individual's health, background, and lived experience. The most common symptoms include:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes (or hot flushes) and night sweats
- Brain fog
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort
- Bladder problems, including increased infections, and incontinence
- Depression and anxiety
- Decreased fertility
- Changes in sex drive
- Loss of bone
- Changing cholesterol levels
- Dry skin
- Weight gain and loss
- Hair loss
For many individuals, treatment that may include hormone replacement therapy has proven highly effective at relieving symptoms, balancing hormonal changes, and improving overall quality of life.
Who is affected by menopause?
Menopause generally affects individuals between the age of 45 and 50, although some symptoms can begin to appear much earlier.
In particular, many non-physical symptoms can begin in the perimenopause phase. In a study of women in late perimenopause, 38% of respondents reported experiencing symptoms in the four-to-10-year period prior to menopause such as hot flashes. In a different study, women who'd never experienced depression were two to four times more likely to experience it during menopause.
Those problems only get magnified for people of color and LGBTQIA+ communities. Studies have shown that Black, Latine and Native American women can experience menopause earlier and with more intensity than white women. Experts chalk that up to socio-economic and lifestyle differences, as well as racial inequities in access to healthcare.
Employers also need to realize that, in addition to women, menopause can affect any employee with a menstrual cycle, which can include the following:
- Trans people, defined as people whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth
- Intersex people, which includes those born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit traditional “female” or “male” definitions
- Non-binary people, which includes those who don't define themselves as strictly male or female
Challenges regarding menopause can become particularly complicated for LGBTQIA+ communities. Physical and emotional symptoms can become more extreme. Mentally, LGBTQIA+ people can face significant emotional stress when experiencing menopause. For some, it may serve as a reminder of a gender with which they no longer identify.
Some gender-reassignment surgeries also can trigger surgically-induced menopause, which carries serious risks, including increased overall mortality rate and increased rates of pulmonary and colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cognitive impairment, Parkinson's disease, psychiatric disorders, osteoporosis, and sexual dysfunction.
How does menopause affect work?
Menopause can have a dramatic impact on a woman's quality of life and in the workplace. Many women face significant obstacles just to find the medical help they need.
According to a study of over 400 women between the age of 50 and 59 by AARP, 42% said they never discussed menopause with a healthcare provider. The research went on to show that only about 20% of women received a referral to a specialist. Finally, the Mayo Clinic studied 183 medical residents and found that while about 94% said menopause training was important or very important, only about 7% felt adequately trained.
As female employees struggle to manage menopause, employers may not even be aware of the consequences for their workforces:
In particular, women in the workplace already face considerable challenges, even without those associated with menopause. For starters, women face unequal pay. They also face career setbacks when they leave the workplace to start and raise families. Women facing menopause often also care for others (e.g., children, parents), leaving little time to prioritize themselves. Not surprisingly, many simply choose to leave their jobs or the workforce altogether during menopause. A recent study on menopause and work noted that 17% of women surveyed quit a job or considered quitting due to symptoms.
For those that don't leave, the challenges can be significant. Women often can't find help, which leads to lost days. That same study found that four out of 10 female employees said symptoms interfered with their work performance or productivity on a weekly basis. And two out of 10 women said it impacted their work either daily or multiple times a day.
How to talk about menopause at work
It goes without saying that employers must keep personal discussions around menopause in the workplace confidential for those affected. Understand that it's a very private matter, and your employee may feel hesitant to discuss it for various reasons, including:
- They may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing their experience with you. If so, suggest someone with whom they might feel more comfortable
- They're worried about how it will impact how they're viewed in the office
- They're concerned about confidentiality, particularly if it involves revealing details about sexual orientation
- They're nervous about job security
When talking to your employees, you should:
- Let your employee lead the discussion and decide what they do and don't want to share
- Avoid making assumptions about what your employees may be feeling
- Don't share any information without your employee's consent. Let them decide what to share, with whom, who will share it, and when
- Keep a private record of what's discussed
Given the very sensitive nature of the discussions, you should start today by making sure you have at least some members of your HR team (or any other appropriate group) fully trained in all women's health issues.
How can you help employees experiencing menopausal symptoms?
Knowing that a considerable number of employees in your organization already may be experiencing (or soon will experience) menopause, you should consider several ways you can show the kind of additional support they need:
- Consider offering specialized menopause benefits, a new offering in the women's and family health benefits space. This individualized approach addresses the clear gap in understanding and can pay considerable dividends with production and turnover
- Talk about menopause openly in the workplace to reduce stigma and close the knowledge gap
- Show flexibility by accommodating adjustments in work hours and allowing for medical appointments
- Allow for more working from home
- Find or create private areas for onsite workers to take breaks
- Encourage workers dealing with symptoms to take the time off they need to stay healthy
- Consider shifting roles and responsibilities during this time to allow employees to manage symptoms and explore treatment options such as menopausal hormone therapy
How Maven supports women's health
Maven is the world's largest women's and family health clinic seeking to provide better quality, inclusive, cost-effective care to women and families. Maven members can tap into 24/7/365 support from virtual providers specializing in women's health and menopause, as well as get access to clinically-approved educational materials and referrals to trustworthy in-person care.
By offering members high-touch care navigation, specialized health care teams, and evidence-based care management programs, Maven delivers the right care at the right time, all within a seamless virtual experience. To learn more, contact us today.
Ready to get started with Maven?
See how Maven can support working families, retain talent, and reduce costs
Activate your Maven account today
Maven members have unlimited access to 24/7 care and 30+ types of providers. Check to see if you have access to Maven providers and resources today.Explore Maven