Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause in the Workplace – Why Women are Demanding Better from Their Employers

Women make up over 50% of the Canadian population. And an estimated 5 million women — one-quarter of Canada’s labour force — are over the age of 40. The average woman spends up to half of her working life in a perimenopausal or menopausal state. Often during the prime years of their career. Why there continues to be a profound lack of support and silence around the topic in the workplace is baffling. 

Embarrassment, shame and fear

According to a recent study, entitled Menopause Works Here(™) by the Menopause Foundation of Canada (MFC), while 9 out of 10 women experience menopausal symptoms, one-quarter of those women (24%) admit to hiding their symptoms at work. Two-thirds (67%) said they would not feel comfortable speaking to their supervisor or someone in HR. Almost half of women (48%) say they would be too embarrassed to ask for help at work. And a shocking three-quarters of women surveyed (75%)  said their employer is not supportive of this stage of life. One-third (32%) of working women say their menopause symptoms negatively impacted their performance at work.

Canada is not alone in the absence of workplace support for women in perimenopause or menopause. 

In a late 2023 survey, UK workplace-healthcare provider SimplyHealth surveyed more than 2,000 working women aged 40 to 60. 23% percent of those women considered resigning due to the impact of menopause. 14% reported they are currently planning to hand in their notice. 

Also in 2023, a study of 4000+ women in the US by the Mayo Clinic found that up to 15% of women surveyed reported at least one adverse work outcome due to menopause symptoms. Another 11%  reported missing work in the preceding 12 months. Almost 6% reported cutting back on hours in the preceding 6 months. 

The toll on women is great

Because menopause is still considered to be a taboo workplace topic, they suffer in silence rather than speak out — concerned they may be considered “weak or “emotional”. Compounded by pervasive issues around ageism, women rightly express concern that openly talking about menopause in the office will lead to negative sentiment from bosses and co-workers. It is an unfortunate truth that many women find themselves facing discrimination and bias as they age, especially during menopause. One-third of women surveyed by MFC felt their colleagues might perceive them as “past their prime.” They also believe that talking about menopause and its symptoms in the office may be career-limiting. As a result, women, keen to continue to demonstrate value, often overcompensate for any perceived shortcomings. That reaction itself has consequences; the workplace stress it creates takes a mental and physical toll. 

“I regularly provide care to menopausal working women and know that they often struggle for years before taking action to get some help. While menopause is a natural life transition, women do not need to suffer through symptoms that can impact their work and their quality of life,” says Dr. Shafeena Premji, MD MHA CCFP FCFP MSCP and MFC Medical Advisory Board Member.

A shockingly high economic toll

MFC estimates $3.5B is lost annually in the Canadian economy due to the unmanaged symptoms of menopause. This number is broken down as follows:

  • $237 in productivity losses annually,
  • $3.3B in lost annual income due to a reduction in hours and/or pay, or due to women leaving the workforce altogether, and
  • 540K in lost days of work. 

In the US, lack of employer support for menopausal women is estimated at $1.8 billion in lost work time per year. When medical expenses are added that number is $26.6 billion annually. 

“Women are too often blindsided by menopause in their prime working years, which leads to a loss of invaluable experience, skills and leadership in the workplace. While this hurts employers and the economy overall, our research reveals that women bear the brunt of the impact, losing income when they should be earning the most,”  says Janet Ko, President and co-founder, of the Menopause Foundation of Canada.

A real and valid workplace issue

Acknowledging that menopause is a real and valid workplace issue is the first step in shifting the narrative, says Ko. “Employers have an exciting opportunity to reverse this trend by creating menopause-inclusive workplaces that tap into the full potential of women in their prime.” 

The MFC has created a five-point action plan centered around culture and communication, policies, accommodations, employee benefits, and an invitation for employers to join its Menopause Works Here(™) campaign. This campaign calls on workplaces to listen and understand the perspectives of menopausal employees, learn about menopause and its impact at work, and to find meaningful ways to support employees at this stage of life.  

Efforts by the MFC and other organizations like the Menopause Society and the International Menopause Society are creating change. Employers are now recognizing the importance of building a menopause-inclusive workplaces and the potential returns from creating more supportive work environments and cultures for women. 

“Menopause doesn’t stop during the workday. Employers must have the right solutions and tools available to support their employees. We know that individuals rely on their employer benefits to support them through all of life’s stages, including menopause. Employers who invest in their employees see the return – through retention, productivity and engagement, to name a few,” says Marie-Chantal Côté Senior Vice-President, Group Benefits, Sun Life Canada.

How to promote a menopause-inclusive workplace