Although issues like pregnancy and infertility have, thankfully, begun to receive the attention they deserve in the workplace, menopause—another important topic in women’s health—remains clouded by silence.
Fortunately, a host of new initiatives aimed at addressing the stigma surrounding menopause in the workplace seem poised to highlight—and help with—the challenges faced by those experiencing it. Specialized health benefits programs for menopause, among the most important of those initiatives, have the potential to guide employees through this time of transition. Not only can menopause 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. In this blog, we’ll look at:
- What menopause is
- The symptoms of menopause
- Who menopause affects
- The stigma around menopause in the workplace
- How menopause affects work
- How to talk about menopause in the workplace
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 (more about how this contributes to stigma in just a moment). Typically, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
1 billion women are expected to spend on average $2,000/year on menopause in 2025 (prescriptions, doctor visits, treatments, creams)—Female Founders Fund
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms for those experiencing menopause can vary based on an individual’s health, background, and lived experience, but they often include the following, depending on which phase of menopause an employee has entered:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Brain fog
- Sleep issues
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort
- Bladder problems, including increased infections, and incontinence
- Decreased fertility
- Changes in sex drive
- Loss of bone
- Changing cholesterol levels
- Dry skin
- Weight changes
- Hair loss
Who is affected by menopause?
As we mentioned above, menopause generally affects women between the ages of 45 and 50, although some symptoms of menopause can begin to appear much earlier, in fact, at around 40 (and even as early as the mid-20s).
In particular, many non-physical symptoms can begin in the perimenopause phase. In a study of women in late perimenopause, 38 percent of respondents reported experiencing symptoms in the four-to-10-year period prior to menopause. Those symptoms included depression, irritability, mood swings, and fatigue. In a different study, women who’d never experienced depression were two to four times more likely to experience it during menopause. Although the impact for employees is no less devastating, employers may find these symptoms (often emotional) difficult to see.
Those problems only get magnified for women 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 some serious risks, including increased overall mortality rate and increased rates of pulmonary and colorectal cancer, coronary disease, stroke, cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, psychiatric disorders, osteoporosis, and sexual dysfunction.
Why is there a stigma around menopause?
Stigmas around menopause likely have several roots. First and foremost, menopause is linked to aging, which in itself still carries stigmas in the workplace. More specifically, though, many of the stigmas likely go back hundreds of years to antiquated perceptions of male and female roles. In particular, the role of women largely focused on their ability to have children. Sadly, society measured a woman’s “worth” by the number of children she had. Because menopause signalled the end of fertility, menopausal women were viewed differently and with negative implications.
Today, menopause—and the end of fertility—still leads to emotional struggles for those who experience it. The combination of the inability to have children, physical symptoms, and the recognition of menopause as a sign of aging all contribute to the stigma and shame attached to it.
How does menopause affect work?
Menopause can have a dramatic impact in the workplace. Beyond the symptoms described above, those experiencing menopause face significant obstacles just to find the medical help they need. According to a study of over 400 women between the ages of 50 and 59 by AARP, 42 percent said they never discussed menopause with a healthcare provider. The study went on to show that only about 20 percent of women received a referral to a menopause specialist. Finally, the Mayo Clinic studied 183 medical residents and found that while about 94 percent said menopause training was important or very important, only about seven percent felt adequately trained.
As employees struggle with 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 menopause symptoms.
- Productivity losses
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 women said menopause 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 do you 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 menopause is 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
- Obviously, 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 on menopause.
How can you help employees experiencing menopause?
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 support they need, given the issues described in this blog. Here are a few suggestions:
- Consider offering specialized menopause benefits, a new offering in the growing women’s and family health benefits space. This specialized care address the clear gaps in understanding when it comes to menopause and can pay considerable dividends with production and turnover
- Show flexibility when it comes to employees experiencing menopause. Accommodating adjustments in work hours and allowing for medical appointments can go a long way
- Allow more work from home for those dealing with menopause
- For workers on site, try to find or create private areas for them 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
How Maven supports members experiencing menopause
Maven is the complete digital family health platform for payers and employers seeking to provide more inclusive, cost-effective care to women and families. Maven members can tap into 24/7/365 support from virtual providers specializing in 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 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.
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