The Staggering Cost of Menopause in the Workplace
An article in the New York Times caught our eye recently. The title “Study Shows the Staggering Cost of Menopause for Women in the Work Force” was enough to pique our interest because we know how women suffer during menopause, but it was this sentence that shocked us- “Menopause costs American women an estimated $1.8 billion in lost working time per year.” And this is likely an underestimation.
The Mayo Clinic study was published last month and examined how hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and other symptoms associated with menopause affect women in the workplace. It’s the largest study of its kind to have been done in the United States. Researchers surveyed over 4,000 participants at four Mayo Clinic sites in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, and Wisconsin.
The majority of survey participants were white, but researchers found that menopause can have a greater effect on Black and Hispanic working women. Higher percentages of Black and Hispanic women reported adverse work outcomes related to menopausal symptoms compared to white women.
And where is the lost $1.8 billion coming from? Women are taking sick days, days without pay, cutting back hours, or quitting altogether. Returning to the workforce after symptoms have resolved, which can take years, can be virtually impossible, and replacing lost income is a challenge. But there is progress toward a greater acceptance of how menopause affects women in the workplace and the option of bio-identical hormone replacement.
The Symptoms of Menopause
If you are in menopause, you are familiar with the symptoms, and it is not unusual for women to minimize the effects of menopause because the show must go on! That's why a study of this magnitude may change attitudes and make reasonable accommodations for women going through menopause. And there is hope in the workplace, which we will talk about.
Symptoms of Menopause
Hot flashes can come on without warning- for example, at a work meeting or any other time of day. Hot flashes at night are exceptionally disruptive, causing a loss of sleep.
Night sweats and cold flashes
Valginal dryness causes discomfort during sex.
Irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
Dry skin, dry eyes, or dry mouth.
Worsening of PMS
Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual.
Loss of libido
Other possible symptoms for some women:
Joint and muscle aches and pains.
Difficulty concentrating or memory lapses
Hair thinning or loss
What Happens in the Workplace During Menopause
Menopause symptoms alone are enough of a challenge in the workplace, but women don’t live in a vacuum. Many women at menopause age are providing eldercare to parents, dealing with teenage children, relationships, and managing a household. The stress of performing on the job while coping with fatigue, hot flashes, poor concentration, and more is incredibly stressful.
The findings of the menopause study and work quantify the physical, economic, and social challenges women face as they age, enduring sometimes debilitating physical changes. Meanwhile, the topic of menopause is taboo in general and even more so in the workplace. Bottom line- most people undervalue women’s menopausal experience unless they are fortunate to have a female boss who has gone through what they have.
Progress Toward Menopause-Friendly Workplaces
There is some progress in the workplace. A new movement aims to create “menopause-friendly workplaces.” The movement started in Britain, where women are believed to be the fastest-growing work force demographic.
Over 50 British organizations, including HSBC UK, Unilever UK, and the soccer club West Ham United, are now certified as “menopause-friendly. It is estimated that three in 10 workplaces in Britain now have some kind of menopause policy in place. There is even an awards ceremony, held in London, for the most menopause-friendly companies.
But what about the United States? New York City Mayor Eric Adams promised earlier this year “to change the stigma around menopause in this city” and to “create more menopause-friendly workplaces for our city workers through improving policies and our buildings.”
So on a practical level, how are companies approaching a more supportive environment for women undergoing menopause?
Some companies provide education to reduce stigma by posting information on company websites and training managers about menopause.
Allowing employees to take short breaks when they are having symptoms.
Some workplaces also provide employees with access to treatment by contracting with companies that offer virtual appointments with menopause specialists.
Wendy Sachs, a 52-year-old filmmaker, and producer in New York, recalled how several years ago, while working on a television series, she would lose her train of thought. “I had this fog over me all the time, and I honestly thought, ‘I’m having early dementia.’” She didn’t think to mention it to her colleagues, many of whom were men. It was a long time before she finally found a specialist in women’s health who prescribed hormone replacement therapy. Another also recommended vitamins. “And I truly feel like the fog has lifted,” she said.
How Hormone Replacement Can Help
During menopause, a significant drop in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone causes troubling and disruptive symptoms that impact work, relationships, and well-being. After weighing any risks, the logical solution is to have bio-identical hormone replacement. Hormone replacement can improve your energy, concentration, reduce hot flashes and improve sleep and libido.
Managing your job effectively while optimizing all other important aspects of your life is possible. All without feeling like you are losing your mind! Hormone replacement is a good first step. When you start to feel better, you can assess and tackle other facets of your health, such as nutrition, diet, exercise, and stress management. We are here to help you thrive through menopause, not simply endure it.