Lack of menopause support and care is a women’s health crisis hiding in plain sight. While we’ve made some strides in pushing for greater maternity and fertility support over the past several decades, there is a massive group of working women that we’ve left to suffer without the support and care they deserve: women in menopause. The economic and societal impact of this omission has far-reaching results, not only for the over 50 million women in menopause, but for their employers, the economy, our health system and beyond.
We’re not talking about a few employees complaining about hot flashes. Menopause is a major period in a woman’s health journey that can have significant physiological, mental and emotional impacts. For starters, there are 34 known symptoms ranging from insomnia to brain fog to anxiety to joint pain and beyond, each of which can greatly impact how you show up in the workplace in big ways, and small.
Related: How employers can recognize menopause in the workplace
With more celebrities and public figures speaking up and out about their experience—including my personal hero Michelle Obama sharing about her hot flashes in the White House!—the veil has finally been lifted, and more attention and research is underway to shine a light on this hidden topic and its impact on our society.
A 2023 report released by Mayo Clinic revealed just how staggeringly massive this impact truly is:
- $1.8 billion in lost work time per year in the U.S. due to menopause symptoms
- $26.6 billion in annual medical expenses
- 13.4% who reported at least one adverse work outcome due to symptoms
- 10.8% who reported missing one or more days of work in the past year due to symptoms
Despite the diversity limitations—the major of participants were white (93%), married (76.5%), and educated (59.3%)—the findings highlight a critical, immediate need to improve access to care for women navigating this multi-year transition while breaking down stigmas around menopause and aging.
Related: FDA approves new menopause drug to treat hot flashes
Last year, my startup Elektra Health—a next-gen digital health platform empowering women via evidence-based menopause education, care and community—completed our own Menopause In The Workplace Report, which yielded similar results. Moreover, the report also revealed the number of women who had left or considered leaving their job due to menopause (1 in 5) as well as the number of women who had not pursued a promotion due to their menopause symptoms (18%). That number jumped to 24% for Black women.
In a world striving to keep talented women in the workforce, employers can and must do better to ensure that senior women receive the care and support they need during the seven to 10 year menopause journey.
Employers aren’t the only ones bearing the brunt of the cost. Health plans are, too—which in turn trickles down to employers already groaning under the weight of increasing healthcare costs. Our latest Elektra study revealed that women ages 40 to 60 who receive a menopause diagnosis incurred around 45% more healthcare costs per year (i.e., an additional $4,637 higher than non-diagnosed women). Many women are put through unnecessary testing and specialty visits chasing down proper treatment and support.
Related: Why your periods change in your 40s
With 50% of Americans receiving healthcare through their employer, the workplace is a critical starting point in smashing the menopause taboo, advancing health equity and contributing to the bottom line along the way.
While studies are important and worth doing, they must be paired with action. If you’re a benefits professional or senior executive looking to support your female employees, here’s our four-step plan to foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment.
Related: Should you try an at-home menopause test?
4 ways to support women in menopause at work
Step 1: Start the conversation with an ERG event
Elektra partners with organizations to host educational events for employees called “Health, Hormones & Work.” During this one-hour session (virtual or hybrid), an expert covers menopause 101, the research of how it affects women in the workplace, and what we can do about it.
All are welcome: people in menopause, the menopause-curious, and anyone who agrees that it’s time to bring menopause out of the shadows. Because remember, when something affects 50% of the population, it’s more than just a “women’s issue.” It’s everyone’s issue.
Step 2: Continue the conversation with a dedicated menopause channel
This can come to life as a confidential direct line to HR, senior management, or an independent third party. The goal: Provide employees with educational materials and/or a support group to help address the topic with sensitivity.
Step 3: Implement a menopause policy across all channels
This doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Something as simple as making the physical environment more comfortable with a desk fan policy can make a big impact.
Step 4: Expand benefits to include menopause
True progress will not be made if we’re picking and choosing which areas of women’s health to prioritize—if, for example, we’re providing reproductive support but not post-reproductive support. Women in menopause feel left out of health benefits, and we cannot turn our backs when 50% of the population hits their 40s to 50s—which happens to be when we’re moving into senior or executive leadership roles while simultaneously raising children and caring for aging parents.
Elektra’s platform is purpose-built by medical experts to support women through this 10 to 15 year transition, and 89% of members say they have a more favorable opinion of their employer for offering menopause support.
A note on supporting women in menopause at work
No woman should feel like her story is unheard. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about menopause. It’s about advocating that employers and health plans build a better support system for women across their full hormonal health journey so we can show up as the best, healthiest versions of ourselves, inside and outside the workplace.