Journal / Menopause

Menopause in the Workplace

Nancy L. Belcher

Medically reviewed by Nancy L. Belcher Ph.D, MPA

Written by Winona Editorial Team

Last updated November 25, 2021

Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause affects 27 million working women every day, which means up to 20% of the US workforce can be coming to work fatigued, anxiety-riddled, battling brain fog, wracked with hot flashes, and likely totally silent about it. If symptoms are untreated, dealing with menopause at work can sometimes be career suicide. When women do take time off to deal with their menopause symptoms, only half of them disclose the real reason for their absence.1

Menopause in the workplace is discussed so little that most people are unaware of the impact it can have, until they know someone going through menopause at work, or are experiencing it themselves.

As women, we have many barriers to advancing our careers. The choice to have children or not was a huge consideration when in our 20s and 30s, and how that choice impacted our careers cannot be ignored. As we enter peri- and menopause, there is a new hurdle to contend with. 

There is inherent sexism and bias built into most organizations that ultimately disadvantages women throughout all phases of their careers, including menopause. As we learn to discuss race, gender, and generational differences more openly at work, we also need to add peri- and menopause to the agenda.

What Am I Facing at Work?

Approaching menopause and then enduring the symptoms for 15 years or more, often intersects with a critical career stage. Perimenopause is the stage before menopause and is the beginning of menopause symptoms. Perimenopause can start as early as 35. When women reach the age of 45-55, this is when they are most likely to finally reach top leadership positions 2. And this is the most common menopause age. 

Despite the fact that nearly half of the world’s population will experience peri- and menopause, and one in four women will experience very serious menopause symptoms, it is rarely addressed appropriately in work situations2. It is pretty discouraging to think that just as women are reaching the pinnacle of their careers they can also be experiencing depression, anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes and night sweats, and mind fog (aka cognitive impairment) which can derail them just as they crested the career wave. 

We cannot deny that workplace ageism is also part of the reason why even the discussion of menopause is not a part of corporate health discussions or policies. Most women try to disguise their menopause symptoms. While we all remember friends talking openly about morning sickness or their pregnancy weight gain, we don’t discuss menopause and the vast array of ways that it impacts work performance. 

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What Can We Do About Menopause Symptom Relief?

We know that ignoring menopause is not a solution to the symptoms and the adverse impacts they can have on a woman’s career. Confusion, self-doubt, and anxiety can kill a career.2 So, what can we do? 

  1. First, let’s face the challenge of menopausal symptoms head-on. While we can aspire to be more open about what menopause is and how it affects both individuals and organizations, we can also effectively treat the symptoms with safe, effective, medically prescribed options such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). With HRT, women can look forward to fewer debilitating symptoms that can adversely affect their quality of life and career aspirations.

    For example, fearing speaking up in a meeting is going to impact a career, but that’s what so many women are experiencing, “It certainly affects my confidence from the point of view of speaking at meetings because I am not as fluent . . . that concerns me. I don’t want to, you know, suddenly not have the word that I need, so I am perhaps sort of withdrawing a little bit.”1 We suggest that you treat symptoms with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) rather than suffer alone, in silence.

  2. Secondly, learn what this menopause phase is all about. There are so many unfounded myths about menopause. Just like with any taboo topic, there is a rich history of why people have perpetuated misinformation, and it is no different for menopause. 

    Regarding fear behind scientifically treating the symptoms, the combination of bad science, misogyny, and snake oil salesmen trying to sell bogus products all work in unison to perpetuate the fears associated with the most effective treatments available for menopause symptoms, HRT.

    Physicians can do a better job of educating themselves about the more current hormone replacement therapy and the studies that show them safe and effective, but maybe we need to give them a nudge.

    Winona has numerous patients that have been denied HRT from their primary care doctor and it was only through reading menopause support forums online that they learned about Winona and HRT. One patient shared that, “I am angry that I had to wait so long to find the relief that was there all along, but my own doctor was ill-informed.”

  3. And finally, it’s time to start talking. Yes, it is currently taboo in most workplaces to openly discuss menopause symptoms, but talking about a taboo takes away its power and can reap huge rewards. By talking about your experience and challenges, you can normalize the conversation and help other women feel empowered to speak up when they are dealing with symptoms.

    While we encourage you to speak up, we also appreciate how hard it will be. Address the fact that most organizational systems, whether that be corporate America or the US Healthcare system, were built by and for men, rarely with women in mind. Certainly, menopause was not ever on the table of policy decisions, and it was only recently that even pregnancy was addressed.

    Yes, men don’t want to talk about “women’s health issues”  but it is time. It can be very threatening to talk about menopause, and a large majority of women believe that their menopause status has had a negative impact on their managers and colleagues’ perceptions of their competence2, and discussing it with their manager - especially if it is a man and a younger man - can be career suicide.

Prescription menopause relief. Delivered.

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Embarrassment can stop many women from getting the support they need. One great story was of a woman who was in a 12-person meeting and said: “I’ll have to excuse myself for a few minutes. I’m having a hot flash and need a break.” At that moment, she shared that she “felt powerful, self-assured, and relieved. Everyone nodded like it was no big deal. After the meeting, two colleagues approached me to share their own experiences. That encouraged me to speak about my symptoms more often, and I hope my experience inspires others to do the same.”2

Conclusion:

Menopause affects 27 million working women every day, and if symptoms are untreated, dealing with menopause at work can damage your career.  Menopause in the workplace is discussed so little that most people are unaware of the impact it can have, but you are not alone on your menopause journey. 

By taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), you will increase your estrogen and progesterone levels and can relieve those menopausal symptoms that can adversely impact your work and quality of life like brain fog, insomnia, hot flashes, mood swings, and so much more.3

Winona encourages you to take care of yourself. The drop in hormones during menopause can have far-reaching effects. Relationships, workplace dynamics, and productivity often suffer during menopause. Winona can help. Our providers can get your depleted hormones balanced again. 

Start your Winona onboarding today! Our doctors will ask a few simple questions about your medical history and can recommend appropriate treatment options quickly and easily.

*For some women, HRT is not an option, particularly those who have had blood clotting disorders, strokes, heart attacks, and certain types of cancer. As a result, your Winona doctors will recommend alternative treatments. There are many approaches to managing menopausal symptoms

References:

  1. https://www.fastcompany.com/3056703/how-menopause-silently-affects-27-million-women-at-work-every-day

  2. https://hbr.org/2020/02/its-time-to-start-talking-about-menopause-at-work

  3. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-four-stages-of-sleep-2795920