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Despite advancements in the understanding and handling of gender-related issues in the corporate world, one critical area remains alarmingly underrecognized: menopause. Though it's a natural phase of life experienced by half the population, the implications of menopause for women in the workforce, particularly in terms of productivity, well-being and retention, have not been adequately addressed. Consequently, there is a growing call to recognize and prioritize this issue by senior leaders, who can play a vital role in shaping an inclusive and supportive environment.
Given the biological certainty of menopause, its impact on working women is surprisingly unseen and underestimated. This invisibility occurs even though menopause affects a substantial portion of the global female workforce at some point in their career. Therefore, Korn Ferry partnered with Vira Health to conduct a survey of more than 8,000 women globally to investigate the impact menopause has on women in the workplace. The result of the research paints an alarming picture of the extent of this issue. The survey revealed that up to 40 percent of women report missing from a few days up to a week of work in any given month due to menopausal symptoms, with a higher prevalence amongst those with a disability and younger women. This trend seeps into all hierarchical levels, with up to 29 percent of senior executives affected.
Adding more weight to this issue, a research study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported an estimated loss of $1.8 billion in the US market. Furthermore, a study published in Women's Health reported that despite two-thirds of perimenopausal women experiencing symptoms of brain fog, mood swings and fatigue, more than 60 percent reported they did not feel informed about menopause at all. Today, many workplaces remain unprepared and ill-equipped to support women through this phase, demonstrating a substantial disconnect between the lived experiences of menopausal women and organizational understanding and support.
The situation becomes more complex as we delve deeper. According to our survey, 13 percent of respondents have quit their jobs and 15 percent have considered doing so due to menopausal symptoms, cumulatively affecting 28 percent of the workforce. The impact is again more pronounced among those with a disability and younger women. Alarmingly, this trend scales the corporate hierarchy, affecting 31 percent of first-level supervisors, 36 percent of mid-level managers and 43 percent of senior executives. Overall workplace support, including formal policies, programs and communication about the issue, is disappointingly low, with only 26 percent of respondents saying their workplace adequately addresses menopause.
In light of these revelations, how can organizations, especially senior leaders, acknowledge and effectively manage the impact of menopause on women in the workplace? How can they improve support systems, reduce work absences, enhance job satisfaction and decrease the likelihood of women leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms?
On the topic of support, external social support was reported by 39 percent of respondents, followed by colleagues (38 percent), healthcare providers (35 percent) and managers (32 percent). However, only 26 percent reported having formal policies or programs in their workplace addressing menopause, with 37 percent saying that human resources communicated about it. While these statistics highlight a significant gap in workplace support, the good news is that those surveyed who were 'optimistic' about their experience also reported higher levels of support, as well as more aspirational about their career goals.
Updated findings persistently emphasize the influence of menopause for women at work. According to a study issued in the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health in 2023, approximately one in three women articulated moderate to severe challenges in managing their work due to symptoms related to menopause. The study identified risk factors contributing to these difficulties which comprised financial hardship, self-perceived poor health, depression and negative psychosocial occupational elements. However, physical demands did not appear to significantly contribute to these difficulties.
Research has also found that 47 percent of workers surveyed expressed their inclination to explore remote or hybrid work options due to menopause symptoms, while nearly one-third of the women would contemplate transitioning from full-time to part-time employment, and 22 percent expressed the possibility of retiring early. These findings highlight the potential implications of menopause on women's career choices and the need for workplace support and accommodations to address this transition.
These studies echo the findings of earlier research, re-emphasizing the critical need for improved recognition and support of menopause in the workplace. It's evident that workplaces that fail to address this natural biological process risk undermining the well-being of their employees and their overall organizational productivity.
Addressing this issue effectively necessitates a comprehensive approach focused on education, programmatic adjustments and fostering a supportive work environment where senior leaders have a crucial role to play. Organizations must promote awareness and education about menopause across all levels. This understanding will build empathy and support, critical for creating an inclusive environment.
Formal training and support programs designed to accommodate women experiencing menopause, such as flexible work hours and access to healthcare providers, can mitigate the negative impact. In addition, an inclusive culture that encourages open communication about menopause can be instrumental in reducing stigma and discrimination. Lastly, ensuring that HR leaders know what menopause care is covered by employer health programs, as well as offering additional access to menopause support programs, is important to the well-being of the workforce.
Menopause remains an underrecognized issue in the workplace that requires urgent attention. Given its substantial impact on productivity, well-being and retention, it's critical for senior leaders prioritize this issue. Implementing supportive policies, fostering open communication and promoting education about menopause will not only help address this issue but also build a more inclusive, empathetic and productive work environment.
Andrea Berchowitz is co-founder of Vira Health and Tessa Misiaszek is head of research for the Korn Ferry Institute. This article is adapted from www.ChiefExecutive.net with permission from Chief Executive. © 2023. All rights reserved.