From hot flashes to mood changes to severe exhaustion, over 39-million women in the United States workforce are over the age of 40, and will discover that their peri- and menopausal symptoms can have real impacts on their daily work routine. And for some it can be life altering.
In honor of Menopause Awareness month in October, Carrot Fertility, a global fertility care platform, wanted to better understand just how much menopausal symptoms impact women in the workplace, and how this translates into better access for specialized medical care and more support at work.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen more conversations happening around menopause and more awareness around the physical and emotional symptoms women experience throughout perimenopause and beyond,” said Asima Ahmad, MD, MPH, co-founder and chief medical officer of Carrot Fertility. “This is all very positive, but we also know that change takes time, so we wanted to continue adding to the conversation and increase visibility for menopause.“
They surveyed 2,000 employed women, equally divided between the US and the UK who were either perimenopasual, menopausal, or had just completed menopause. What they found was 80 percent of respondents, regardless of professional sector or industry, reported managing menopause symptoms as a challenge at work. A large majority (72 percent) had felt uncomfortable or self-conscious after experiencing a menopause symptom in the workplace.
The survey also found that one in three women said they have never discussed menopause with their doctor, and less than 20 percent said they had a high level of understanding of menopause before symptoms began. And despite reporting symptoms ranging from hot flashes, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and more, many had avoided medical care.
To manage their symptoms in the workplace, 54 percent of women reported the need to shift or alter their work routine. This included reducing hours, shifting careers, moving from full to part-time work, changing jobs for a less demanding one, and sometimes even quitting. Notably, women of color were more likely to consider shifting from full-time to part-time to manage their menopause.
“Women are the CEOs of the household,” said Dr. Ahmad. “They are making the decisions, taking care of the family, and making sure schedules and tasks are completed. But even though they are leaders in their homes and work, they often put themselves on the back burner – they are many times the last ones in the household to receive care. “
She adds that the stigma around menopause and given that it’s a ‘stage of life’ and women have been told for generations to ‘deal with it’, many hesitate to seek out care. “For those that finally do, it takes multiple visits and multiple physicians before they find the right fit, so there still ends up being a delay in the optimal management of their perimenopause or menopause,” said Dr. Ahmad.
The survey also reported that just 23 percent of respondents have shared their menopause experience beyond their social circles or friend groups. And 90 percent of women said that there was a need for more public awareness and discussion of menopause, symptoms, and their impact on women to help generate additional support.
How to ask for menopause benefits at work
Most women are experiencing perimenopausal symptoms in their 40s and 50s, and in many cases are at the height of their careers. The study found that the symptoms that come with this stage negatively impact concentration and how employers feel about job promotion or growth.
“The more we speak up about this, the more momentum it will gain,” said Dr. Ahmad. “Every woman will go through menopause – it will affect 51 percent of the population. That is not a small number. Therefore, it needs to be acknowledged, embraced, destigmatized, and supported.”
It’s useful to think about the practical changes that will help you if you are suffering from menopausal symptoms in the workplace. Some steps you can take include:
- If your employer provides access to an occupational health service, you can speak to them about support and possible work adjustments.
- Ask your employer about flexible hours if you find yourself lethargic around certain times of the day.
- If you work in an office and find yourself experiencing severe hot flashes, ask about being allowed to move to a cooler part of the workplace or seeing if you can bring a fan. And if your job requires a uniform that is too hot, see if your employer can provide a more comfortable alternative.
- Taking notes of your symptoms and letting your boss know if you are starting to notice anything unusual happening, so they can be prepared if you need to take time off.
Opening up to someone in a professional environment may feel uncomfortable or even unprofessional, but Dr. Ahmad says it’s important to start those conversations to work towards a more inclusive workplace.
“Share your experience of perimenopause or menopause with others,” she said. “And speak to HR about finding more support at work with benefits that provide better access to menopause providers and treatments, have comprehensive telehealth options, and access to new and innovative treatments.”
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