When women in perimenopause and menopause put on their suit, uniform, or casual look for another day at the office, in a classroom, in a cockpit, or wherever their job takes them, they don’t leave their menopausal symptoms at home. They carry them along, but not in their briefcase or purse. The burden and impact of those symptoms and the menopause experience are physical, emotional, and mental. They are more challenging for some working women than they are for others, and there is a growing awareness of the role menopause is playing in the workplace.
Menopausal women and the workplace
A recent article Forbes magazine noted there are 41 million women older than age 40 in the US labor force, which means 26 percent of the workforce is composed of women of menopause age. That’s a significant segment of the working world and a huge force that needs to be addressed.
In a survey conducted in 2022 by Biote, 1,010 women ages 50 to 65 who worked full- or part-time were asked if menopause symptoms had an impact on their work performance and career. The researchers found that:
- At least 50 percent of participants said they had hot flashes, night sweats, insufficient sleep, fatigue, and joint stiffness/aches and pains (arthralgia).
- 47 percent had anxiety.
- 43 percent had headaches.
- 42 percent had lapses of memory.
- 40 percent said menopause disrupted their work performance at least weekly.
- 20 percent said menopause disrupted their work every day or several times a day.
Impact of menopause in the workplace: Study
How does the figure $1.8 billion sound? That’s the estimated annual loss in the United States alone based on number of workdays missed because of menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, joint aches, cognitive difficulties, mood swings, sleep problems, and more. That figure rises to $26.6 billion when you add in medical expenses. These figures were determined based on the findings of a new survey study (Hormones and Experiences of Aging) in which information was gathered from 5,219 women aged 45 to 60.
Of the 5,219 women who responded to the survey, 4,440 reported on their employment. The authors were interested in adverse work outcomes (e.g., missing work and/or lost productivity) related to symptoms of menopause based on the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS). Overall, the participants were found to have moderate symptom burden based on MRS.
Here’s what the researchers found:
- 13.4 percent of women reported at least one adverse work outcome because of menopause symptoms.
- 10.8 percent missed work in the preceding 12 months (median, 3 days missed) because of menopause symptoms.
- Women who scored in the higher end of the MRS were 15.6 times more likely to experience an adverse work outcome when compared with those in the lower end.
The lead author of the study, Stephanie Faubion, MD, director of Mayo Clinic Women’s Health, says that “The takeaway for employers is that there is a critical need to address this issue for women in the workplace.”
That need involves physical as well as psychological burdens of menopause. According to senior author Ekta Kapoor, MBBS, assistant director of Mayo Clinical Women’s Health, the topic of menopause has been taboo in society, especially in the workplace, and this “potentially adds to the psychological burden of symptoms.” She adds that “Women often fear bias, discrimination and stigmatization,” which may cause them to hold back from mentioning their symptoms to their superiors at work. Kapoor notes that “Recognizing these concerns and creating a safe workplace environment for women to discuss their health care needs may help address this.”
More about menopause in the workplace
This is not the first study to talk about the need to focus on the role of menopause in the workplace. In a 2016 study entitled “Menopause in the workplace: what employers should be doing,” the authors stated that “Symptoms associated with menopause may cause difficulties for working women, especially if untreated, yet employers are practically silent on this potentially costly issue.”
According to the Women’s Health Concern, which is an arm of the British Menopause Society, women in the workforce often report challenges in managing their symptoms and experience embarrassment and fear about being in menopause. Difficulties with hot flashes on the job have been associated with a greater chance of women leaving the workforce. Other symptoms frequently reported include fatigue, poor concentration, memory problems, poor self-confidence, and feelings of depression.
Menopause in the workplace: Actions
Some ways to help improve the stigma of menopause in the workplace, improve conditions for working women, and dispel myths and misinformation include:
- Offering flexible work options, such as opportunities to work from home and flex time.
- Train managers about menopause: bring in an expert to talk with employees.
- Provide resources for women, such as support groups and information on services and therapies.
- Encourage open discussions in a safe environment.
Women in menopause make up a significant part of the workplace, and the stress and challenges of maneuvering through the physical and psychological changes, in addition to work responsibilities, are issues that need to be addressed by employers and employees alike so women won't feel like they have to leave the workforce to avoid having symptoms or challenges at work.
We've launched our own research surveys with respect to women in the workplace. We have two versions of this survey, one for women who are currently employed and one if aren't currently employed (because you quit or took a leave of absence) or if you are a stay-at-home mom or guardian. We'd love it if you could please take a minute to fill in the survey. Together, we can further menopause research and create awareness for this phase of life.