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There are 34 recognized symptoms of menopause, and many will strike during the working day. But you’d never know it because menopause is one of the greatest taboos in the workplace.
Horrendous cramps, menstrual flooding at your desk, brain fog and debilitating migraines don’t go on hiatus during your 9 to 5. In fact, the North American Menopause Society reports these common symptoms typically last for four to eight years during perimenopause. Usually, they’ll start to subside when a woman becomes officially menopausal at an average age of 51.
It’s fair to say menopause can be pretty disruptive, but most employers aren’t initiating conversations about it, even though this is a natural phase in women’s health and the swansong of the reproductive years. Companies have arguably become better at offering maternity packages for pregnant employees, and some are now acknowledging the need to provide fertility benefits, too. But the next stage in life — the stage that every woman inevitably reaches — is typically ignored at work. The result? Female employees are suffering.
Why companies should care about menopause
Menopause directly impacts company bottom lines, with Bloomberg reporting global menopause productivity losses topping $150 billion a year. But more importantly, menopause is a diversity, equity and inclusion issue.
Women feel sidelined when they don’t get the physical and mental support they need during menopause. Worse still, some drop out of the workforce entirely. The proof? One in 10 women between 45 and 54 reportedly leave their jobs in the UK due to symptoms of menopause, a report by the Fawcett Society reveals.
Companies can better support their employees and retain valuable female talent by adopting these six strategies:
1. Review your company’s absence policy
Disturbed sleep, often with accompanying night sweats and headaches, is a normal part of menopause. And women who have had a bad night or are experiencing heavy bleeding may struggle to attend work the following day. Anxiety and depression are other reasons why women may need time off during menopause, especially to attend meetings such as therapy sessions.
Companies can support their menopausal workforce by clarifying what their absence policy covers. This may be as simple as reminding employees how to approach short-term sickness absence and reassuring them that symptoms of menopause are included in the policy. Alternatively, employers may be more specific about honoring time off for appointments directly related to menopause.
2. Risk assess workplace conditions
Be proactive by carrying out a menopause risk assessment of your work premises. Ensure toilets are easily accessible with a reasonable level of privacy and sanitary products. Provide access to cold water to reduce the impact of hot flushes, and assess workplace uniforms in terms of comfort, fit and material. For example, tight-fitting clothing manufactured from artificial fibers can worsen hot flashes.
In open-plan offices or workspaces, ensure air-conditioning units are maintained along with the adequate provision of fans, so employees can influence the temperature around their desks.
3. Promote flexible working
Any workplace environment outside of a woman’s control can exacerbate symptoms of menopause. But employers can offer support by allowing flexible working.
Working from home mitigates problems with office temperature and the embarrassment of frequent toilet trips. And women working remotely can dress more comfortably, which is a win for both physical and mental symptoms.
Flexible hours, either remote or in-office, also ensure that women who haven’t slept due to menopause don’t need to clock in at 9 a.m. after a restless night when they’re less productive. Instead, they’ll arrange their working day to suit their symptoms better.
4. Appoint a staff menopause advocate or champion
A menopause advocate or champion is a point of contact for people experiencing menopause. They should be well-versed in your company’s menopause policies, liaising between management, HR leaders and women in the workplace. In their advocate role, they might suggest accommodations such as providing short comfort breaks between meetings and Zoom calls and reporting back to leaders about what their menopausal employees specifically need.
Your appointed advocate can be from any level within any department of your organization. The only prerequisite is they should be friendly, approachable and willing to participate in the role. Your champion will raise awareness of menopause, which may include running regular workshops to educate all staff and providing updates on new resources to support employees.
5. Provide resources for struggling employees
No menopausal woman should feel in the dark about their options and resources. Collate relevant support information, including signposts to local menopause groups, access to company wellbeing benefits and information on hormone replacement therapy or alternative therapies such as acupuncture. List contact details for mental health centers and charities for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety due to menopause. You might also include details of femtech products such as cooling pillows that can be helpful for women struggling with sleep disturbances.
Publish this rich library of resources on a company intranet or similar; remember to update it regularly, and check that your employees know where to find it!
6. Equip leaders with menopause training
Last but not least, your managers shouldn’t shy away from talking about menopause, even if it’s way outside of their comfort zone. Working women must be given the space and opportunity to discuss what is going on with their bodies during this natural stage in life.
Of course, there’s a clear line between inviting women to speak up about their experiences and respecting their privacy. Not everyone wants to talk about their own menopause, and sometimes it comes down to who they want to discuss their symptoms with. If employees feel uncomfortable approaching their direct manager (for example, a younger male leader), always provide the option to talk to an alternative person — such as a female manager in an adjacent department, an HR leader, an employee wellbeing counselor or your menopause champion.
Managers should never assume or ask if an employee of a certain age is going through menopause. But instead, they can highlight that their door is always open for confidential conversations in a safe space.
Finally, equip managers with regular menopause training to know how to handle these conversations sensitively and speak with confidence about how your company will support women of any age.