HR Must Bring Menopause Discrimination out of the Shadows


Talking about menopause at work can be awkward. It shouldn’t be.

First, I acknowledge the unusual nature of a man pontificating about a women’s issue. To be clear, I hardly consider myself an expert on the subject. Rather, I want to raise a workplace issue that we should be thinking about, and ideally discussing openly.

Why is menopause a workplace issue?

For many women, it’s a very difficult time, especially considering that symptoms can last anywhere from two to 10 years.

Indeed, menopause can have a wide range of physical and psychological effects, including hot flashes and night sweats (which often lead to difficulty sleeping), changes in menstrual flow and regularity, depression, anxiety, headaches, body aches and pains, loss of energy, and mood swings. Understandably, dealing with some – or all – these symptoms can impact an employee’s ability to work.

For those of us willing to admit to being ill-informed on the subject (ahem, gentlemen), here are some key statistics:

  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that by 2024, there will be twice as many female workers over the age of 55 than those between 16 and 24.
  • In 2012, some 27 million women in the American workforce were in the menopausal age range of 45 to 55; as of last year, that number climbed to more than 30 million, and four of every five of those women will experience related symptoms.
  • Some 6,000 women in the US reach menopause each day, according to estimates by the American Congress of Obstetricians and GynecologistsOpens a new window .
  • With such a substantial portion of most companies’ workforce affected, offices need to ensure that they have the appropriate measure in place to support menopausal women to be as comfortable as possible.

Doing so is good for employers as well. Not only a positive move from the perspective of corporate social responsibility, it can help the bottom line.

With menopause potentially affecting some employees’ performance, providing those individuals with a work environment well-suited to helping them manage those symptoms benefits general operations. After all, many women who struggle with menopause at the office find it difficult to talk about with their employer. One UK study revealed that two-thirds of women reported a moderate-to-significant effect on their work, with many even leaving their jobs as a result.

Keeping those employees on board, then, will offer some serious cost-saving benefits, and help a company retain valuable knowledge and experience.

The reality, though, is that menopause-related policies are on very few, if any, executives’ agendas. Plus, there is limited-to-no relevant training or information provided to managers or employees.

With so little awareness or support, it should come as little surprise that so many women are embarrassed or unwilling to discuss it with their employer.

So I ask: Why should an issue affecting well over 20% of the American workforce be such a taboo?

And why aren’t more HR departments taking steps to improve their policies and work environments accordingly?

What HR can do

So it’s time to get rid of the pervasive workplace ignorance, indifference and awkwardness that go in hand with the topic. HR leaders, I invite you to take the initial steps.

Whether from a policy stance or a workplace environment perspective, HR can implement various programs to ensure their company is providing a more supportive and menopause-friendly office space.

Below are some of the tips from one of the most in-depth studies on menopause in the workplaceOpens a new window conducted by England’s University of Nottingham on how employers can make sure they reach this goal:

  • Educate management and raise awareness through health promotion programs and awareness training for managers. Team leaders should be cognizant of related symptoms and challenges faced by menopausal women in order to better manage the situation with compassion. This is vital to nurturing an environment that helps women feel comfortable talking to superiors about this topic (good for loyalty and curbing absenteeism).
  • Provide information and support within the company. This could be in the form of information packs with advice, wellness support programs, mentoring schemes and out-of-work-hours support.
  • Flexible working hours and/or offering the choice to work from home can enable women suffering the worst menopausal symptoms to get work done when they’re feeling at their best.
  • Temperature regulation is important: Fans and temperature controls can help.
  • Some offices also don’t provide cold drinking water. Do it.