Menopause at Work: A Personal or a Personnel Matter?

While progress has been made in making menopause less of a taboo subject than it has been, many women still feel uncomfortable talking openly about menopause at work.

According to 2010 census data, women between the ages of 45-64 make up 26.4 percent of the total U.S. population, or approximately 80 million women.

Broadly speaking, these ages are the menopause years, from perimenopause through postmenopause.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics indicate that there are over 26.5 million women employed in the U.S. who are are between 45 and 64 years of age. A 2015 study found that about half of these women find it somewhat, or fairly difficult, to cope with their work.

Many of these women report that they feel that they're viewed as less competent due to the menopausal complications they're experiencing. One of my patients expressed it in the following way

I would be overcome with tears at inappropriate moments at work, with mood swings and sudden memory blanks. My hot flashes were obvious...clearly visible.

As I had seen women at work being teased when they were having hot flashes, I was concerned about becoming a figure of fun to some of my colleagues.

My colleagues and bosses had noticed the changes in me and some of them even commented to me about it.

Hot flashes affect 75 percent of menopausal women. One of the most obvious problems hot flashes pose for women in the workplace is temperature control.

In an indoor workplace with little ventilation, the temperature programmed may be too high for a woman experiencing regular hot flashes. If a woman works outdoors, warm weather can intensify hot flashes, making it difficult to work. Some jobs may require fitted clothing or heavy protective equipment, which can exacerbate hot flashes and increase sweating.

Menopause at work survey results

A survey of 1,500 working menopausal women conducted by The Working Mother Research Institute, found that nearly half the women said managing menopause at work is difficult. They cited hot flashes, changes in memory and concentration and fatigue due to sleep disturbances, as their most common issues. Specific findings were

  • About one-third cited hot flashes as the most troublesome symptoms in the workplace, and roughly two-thirds said that they occurred daily
  • Changes in memory and concentration and fatigue (attributable to sleep disruption) were also among the most troublesome symptoms
  • Almost half (48%) reported that managing their symptoms took a toll on their work life, with 12% passing up more demanding work or promotions as a result
  • The more predominantly 'male' the work environment, the more that women tried to hide their menopausal symptoms while at work; this distinction was almost two-fold
  • Fewer than one on three women felt comfortable discussing their symptoms with their supervisors and among those who were comfortable, again gender was a strong determining factor

So, what do these flashing, fatigued women desire in their work environment?

Overwhelmingly, one primary 'want' shines through: the ability to adjust temperature in their workspace. Close second and third are flexible dress code and the ability to bring a fan into the workspace.

2014 Menopause at work study 

Similar findings were reported in 2014 by La Trobe Business School and Monash University. Their study of 839 menopausal women who work found that the more frequently they experienced menopausal symptoms, the more likely they were to be disengaged at work, dissatisfied with their job and on the verge of resigning.

Many women used words such as 'invisible' to describe the stigma with which they were freshly associated. This stemmed from the unfortunate double whammy of being both female and older in age. They were suddenly overlooked and ignored.

When the participants were asked if formal policies on menopause at work would be a good move, a majority emphatically said ‘no’ because that would further marginalize women and give their detractors one more reason to put up barriers. Their preferred recommendations included:

  • Flexibility to work on days when symptoms are not so severe
  • Autonomy to reschedule meetings and manage their own time
  • Support networks through which female employees can connect
  • Information packs about menopause for colleagues
  • Training for managers in the effects of menopause at work
  • Adaptable workspaces and the availability of desk fans
  • A move away from overly sedentary work methods

While some progress has been made, there is still a long way to go to transform menopause at work from being a personal matter for a woman to being a personnel matter for employers.

This post is reproduced with the permission of Menopause Matters.

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