When Sonja Kellen, Microsoft's senior director of global health and wellness, started to hear about menopause benefits a couple years ago—particularly as a push was happening in the United Kingdom—she was intrigued. A call for more support in the workplace for women and other workers going through menopause began cropping up nationwide and across the pond, then an internal company podcast that featured a guest who was going through menopause kickstarted the conversation among Microsoft employees.
Kellen began thinking about the benefits Microsoft had in place that could support employees going through that stage of their life: Yes, there were comprehensive medical benefits, but they weren't tailored specifically to menopause needs. There were flexible working arrangements, but Kellen realized those, too, weren't specifically created to help people in menopause.
She soon came to the realization that Microsoft should do more.
"It's the navigating-the-journey piece that we felt like was missing from our package of holistic benefits," she said. "We knew we needed to do more to ensure that we're supporting our employees in every phase of their life."
Through provider Maven Clinic, which Microsoft already worked with on family and fertility benefits, Microsoft in July rolled out menopause support for its workers.
Microsoft isn't alone in thinking about supporting employees going through menopause. The tech firm is among a small, but growing, cache of employers offering menopause benefits or support to workers. Possible benefits include hormone therapy, physical therapy for pelvic-floor issues, access to specialists in menopause care and menopause-specific paid leave.
"There's certainly some buzz about it," said Julie Stich, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP). "It's not widespread among U.S. companies, but there are some rumblings about it."
About 4 percent of employers that offer sick leave are providing additional support for menopause, such as access to hormone therapy and counseling, according to a recent report by benefits consultant NFP.
While it's a small number, there's big potential to grow even more: Roughly a third of respondents (32 percent) said they hadn't considered it but would be open to offering such a benefit within the next five years, NFP found.
Meanwhile, menopause care is the fastest growing benefit product ever offered by Maven Clinic, according to CEO Kate Ryder. The virtual health care provider specializes in women's health and works with employers. About 300 employer clients, including education technology company Udemy and pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, have implemented Maven's menopause benefits suite, which helps connect workers to virtual care providers, sleep coaches, OB/GYNs, nutritionists and more professionals who have special training in menopause care.
"It's so underserved," Ryder said of the population going through menopause. "There's been a glaring hole in support for that part of the workforce. I think only recently we've started to hear people talk about it, have a conversation begin to happen where we're talking about menopause and how important it is that we address it. The conversation is only going to continue to grow."
Behind the Momentum
Industry insiders said momentum for menopause benefits comes as employees are calling for more support and help from their employers—especially when it comes to big-picture health for female workers.
Over the past four years, interest in menopause leave, in particular, has increased by a whopping 1,300 percent, according to Lensa, an online jobs site. And a Bank of America report, which was released in June and surveyed 2,000 women nationwide between the ages of 40-65 at companies with at least 1,000 employees, found that 64 percent of working American women want menopause-specific benefits.
"It's just a core part of reproductive health," Ryder said. Symptoms are wide-ranging, she said, and can be debilitating.
Employers are starting to oblige, and for good reason: Menopause costs the U.S. economy an estimated $1.8 billion in lost working time per year, and $26.6 billion annually when medical expenses are added in, according to a Mayo Clinic study released earlier this year. Another study found that 1 in 10 women between the ages of 45 and 54 in the U.K. reportedly leave their jobs because of symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, joint aches, difficulty sleeping, fatigue and brain fog.
And it's not a small subset of the workforce, either: According to Let's Talk Menopause, an education and advocacy nonprofit, roughly 20 percent of the workforce is in some stage of menopause transition. And the number of post-menopausal women is expected to reach 1.1 billion globally by 2025.
Maria Trapenasso, human capital solutions national practice leader at NFP, said it makes financial sense for employers to offer benefits to help.
"Contrasting the cost of replacing employees who are going through menopause versus supporting them, it becomes clear that money spent on adopting initiatives for employees going through this life change is prudent," she said.
Many industry insiders said the support is part of a natural progression toward being more inclusive of all phases of employees' lives. While many organizations have been beefing up fertility benefits, parental leave and other related benefits over the years, workers already out of that phase of their lives—as well as those who chose not to have children—aren't reaping those benefits.
"It's important to have the right services and support in place," Kellen said. "It's kind of like the What to Expect When You're Expecting book when you're about to have a baby. You need that; you need to know what's about to happen to you, for both your body and your life. I think [having menopause support and benefits] is like that, just for a different stage."
"If an employer is focused on offering inclusive benefits as part of their culture, that might be something they want to take into consideration," she said. "Whether or not they want to offer paid menopause leave or other specific menopause benefits, there are things they can do to get employees going through menopause support—flexible time to take an hour or two, offering them remote work if they have symptoms—any of this can be helpful."
Success With Support
Employers that have added benefits to help have seen success.
Microsoft, for instance, had more than 1,000 activations for its menopause support in the first week of launching its benefit, Kellen said. And within the first couple of months, it had more than 3,000 provider-member interactions and about 800 appointments booked. "And that happened across [employees in] 58 countries that have used it," she said.
As far as the initial reaction from employees, Kellen noted she was both "a little surprised and not so surprised."
"It spoke very highly to the pent-up demand that existed for this," she said. "In the first few weeks, you're getting caught up. All the people who are in the ecosystem who are in some phase of the journey of perimenopause or menopause who found out that the solution was rolling out, it prompted a lot of people to jump in right away."
After the initial surge of interest, she said, Microsoft has seen a more moderate increase week over week in the number of employees who have signed up for the new offering.
Employers that offer the benefits can reap their own rewards in the form of fewer absences, enhanced productivity and higher engagement. According to the Bank of America report, when menopause benefits are provided by an employer, 58 percent of women said the offerings have had a positive impact on their work, mostly by allowing them "to bring their best selves to work" (40 percent). Female employees also are likely to feel more comfortable talking about menopause in the workplace when they have access to menopause-specific benefits.
The benefits also have the power to boost retention and attraction, which is always an important consideration for employers. Women have left the workforce at an unrelenting rate in recent years as a result of child care challenges, burnout and other issues. The Bank of America survey also found that employees feel more inclined to recommend their employer as a great place to work when menopause-specific benefits are available (83 percent, compared to 69 percent).
"It's something that an employer might want to keep in mind if there is indeed a risk that someone may either choose to take themselves out of the workplace for a while or if they're worried about productivity loss or something like that," Stich said. "It might be a new area for employers to look at."
Kellen said that most importantly, the benefits have fostered a culture of caring for employees.
"I hope [adding this] shows that our employees are supported and helps create a culture where everyone can do their best and bring their best. We want to support that notion of, 'We've got your back; we can provide the services and the tools and the ecosystem for you so you can be successful,' " she said. "If we want people to be able to bring their whole selves to work, we need to make sure that we're really offering support along all the stages of life."
See also: Thinking About Implementing a Menopause Benefit? Consider These Tips