Over the last half-century, women of menopausal age have become a formidable segment of the global workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 31 million women between the ages of 45 and 64 who are part- or full-time employees this year represent nearly 20% of the nation’s employees. Of these 31 million, 80% will experience menopausal symptoms while on the job and can, therefore, face extra challenges in the workplace.
Working through menopausal symptoms
From hot flashes that distract during meetings to brain fog and insomnia that hinder concentration, these menopause symptoms can severely increase workplace stress, no matter what color collar your job. In this piece, we’ll take a look at the options menopausal women have to manage and mitigate the toll their symptoms take while at work.
“It’s time to break the stigma surrounding menopause in the workplace.”
The most comprehensive and proven treatment for menopausal symptoms is, of course, hormone replacement therapy (HRT). In a UK report on women, menopause, and work, almost 75% of women surveyed admitted that they started HRT in order to improve their ability to work. [Related: Phytoestrogens: The Secret Ingredient in the Fight Against Hot Flashes]. While 91% of these women saw positive results, women should not feel forced to start HRT simply to please their employers. Thankfully, there are non-HRT options.
A menopause-friendly workplace
Small changes can have big effects, especially when it comes to the workplace environment. A 2014 report from Australia recommends a variety of ways to make the office or factory floor more amenable to menopausal symptoms. Because hot flashes are both the most common and the most disruptive symptom, for instance, proper ventilation is key.
From providing desk or hand-held fans to ensuring that workers have regular access to cold drinking water and control over central air and heating, employers can easily institute these minor changes and make the workplace environment a more comfortable place for everyone — not just menopausal women. Making menopausal supplements available to women workers (with free samples in the bathroom, for instance) can also be a great way to help acclimatize menopausal women’s body temperatures.
Women should also advocate for more systemic support from their employees. Educating managers about menopausal symptoms can help them understand how to maximize the experience and wisdom that older women bring to the workplace while minimizing the effects symptoms can have on their productivity.
“Menopause should be recognized for what it is: a natural phase of life and not an illness that needs treatment.”
We all know that happier, healthier workers are more productive, so the opportunity to have more flexible work hours when symptoms arise or even to work from home if symptoms are particularly disruptive can reduce stress for everyone. Most importantly, menopause should be recognized for what it is: a natural phase of life and not an illness that needs treatment.
We women live, on average, up to a third of our lives — and our most prime working years — in varying stages of menopause. We shouldn’t give up on the opportunities that fulfilling work provides us because we’re ashamed of our symptoms. It’s time to break the stigma surrounding menopause in the workplace and proudly show how we can manage not only to get the job done despite menopause but even to thrive because of it.
- Shelley Emling, “Desk Fans? Lighter Uniforms? What Offices Could Do for Menopausal Employees,” AARP, 8 August 2017, https://www.aarp.org/work/on-the-job/info-2017/older-women-menopause-workplace-fd.html.
- Anne Loehr, “How Menopause Silently Affects 27 Million Women at Work Every Day,” Fast Company, 17 Feb 2016, https://www.fastcompany.com/3056703/how-menopause-silently-affects-27-million-women-at-work-every-day.
- Jack et al., “Women, Work and the Menopause: Releasing the Potential of Older Professional Women,” September 2014, https://womenworkandthemenopause.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/women-work-and-the-menopause-final-report.pdf.
- Joan McFadden, “‘I just coped’: Kirsty Wark on Breaking the Silence About Menopause,” Guardian, 16 April 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/15/menopause-kirsty-wark-breaking-the-silence.
Sara A. Murphy is a freelance writer and editor with a PhD from Columbia University. She has written on a variety of topics, including health and fitness, travel, and social justice; she also edits both fiction and non-fiction. You can reach her at Sara.A.Murphy@gmail.com.