Menopause and Work
In October 2023, The Menopause Foundation of Canada released a groundbreaking report that describes the impact of the unmanaged symptoms of menopause and perimenopause on employers and on women’s earning potential.
Since 2012, I have owned and operated my own coaching and consulting practice, so some aspects of the traditional workforce have not impacted me personally. But these numbers are hard to ignore and clearly show that women’s careers and livelihoods are being negatively impacted.
Here are some highlights from The Menopause Foundation of Canada’s Menopause and Work in Canada report:
- “Organizations of all sizes and in all sectors rely on women to get the job done, including the nearly one-quarter who are aged 40+; the prime perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause years (p.1).”
- “Today, two million of them are between 45 and 55 – the age when most reach menopause – and this number is projected to grow by nearly one-third by 2040. They are the fastest growing segment of female workers in Canada (p.1).”
- “It is estimated that the unmanaged symptoms of menopause cost the economy $3.5 billion per year” due to the combination of:
- $237M in lost productivity;
- 540,000 lost days of work attributed to menopause symptom management;
- $3.3B in lost income due to a reduction in hours and/or pay or leaving the workforce altogether (Menopause and Work in Canada, p.2)
The Impact of Perimenopause and Menopause on Women’s Careers
In past blog articles, I’ve discussed obstacles that get in the way of a person’s career aspirations and career progression—for example, various forms of bias and discrimination, impostor syndrome, and the glass cliff. I’ve overlooked poor symptom management of peri/menopause as another potential career derailer. Here’s an example of how this can sometimes play out:
“I decided in my 20s that I would break the glass ceiling and lead a public company. When the opportunity arose at the age of 55, I had to decline. It would have been impossible to take that job while managing my severe symptoms related to menopause.” – Patricia, Menopause and Work in Canada (p. 6)
Modern leaders and HR professionals have been forced to deal with several big changes, including the pandemic and the global push for racial equity, social justice, and inclusion. Given the impact of perimenopause and menopause at work, it’s surprising that women’s struggles have been ignored for so long.
Stigma and Silence
Stigma plays a huge role – and it’s no wonder when commercials like this one for Tena products are in heavy rotation. I don’t put all the blame the commercial; it’s simply a reflection of the culture. These issues are the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone pretends isn’t there. In the commercial, we hear the woman’s thoughts through the voiceover. Nobody is talking to her; there’s no “conversation.” She’s on her own.
Considering the fact that 95% of women in their forties or older will deal with this, the stigma is somewhat surprising. Hopefully, organizations and healthcare professionals will help raise awareness and diminish stigma.
Fifty percent of women in Canada say they are unprepared for menopause with less than 25% of survey respondents believing they are very knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of peri/menopause. When experiences are rarely discussed, there’s an information vacuum. This knowledge vacuum or gap contributes to millions of women needlessly suffering through symptoms that have a negative impact on their health, their quality of life and their work.
- Thirty-two percent of working women say their menopause symptoms negatively impacted their performance at work
- Twenty-four percent say they hid their symptoms at work. The effort associated with covering up things about ourselves that we think are unwelcome has a negative impact on an employee’s productivity
- Twenty-two percent believe their symptoms could affect their progression at work
So yes, the symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause are private – but these are things that women can’t “leave at home.” These are symptoms that follow employees to work. Ignoring the impact of perimenopause and menopause symptoms won’t lessen their impact and won’t contribute to psychological safety or productivity.
Since the 1970s, Canadian employers have found ways to accommodate pregnant women and employees with visible and invisible disabilities. Similarly, Canadian employers quickly figured out how to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions. Given the high cost of employee turnover, it’s in employers’ and employees’ best interests to develop ways to accommodate women dealing with this stage of their lives.
I am cautiously optimistic that workplace policies and supports will evolve, potentially including the following, which were recommended in The Menopause Foundation of Canada’s Menopause and Work in Canada report:
- The creation of toolkits for education and awareness for colleagues and managers
- The development of policies, such as time off and flexible work arrangements
- Where possible, expanded medical insurance to cover common treatments and therapies
I believe this is a very important topic that has been hidden away too long.
Are you interested in knowing more? Here are a few resources from the Menopause Foundation of Canada:
Did this article spark any career or HR-related questions, plans or concerns?
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If you enjoyed this blog, you might also enjoy How to be Resilient in Your Career: Facing Up to Barriers at Work, available in print, as an eBook, and on Audible!