In 2018, Jenni Dunn noticed subtle changes to her mood and concentration.
Dunn, who oversaw the sales and marketing for a boutique hotel in London, found that tasks she previously completed with ease were becoming more difficult, such as copywriting, networking, generating ideas and meeting deadlines.
She also began experiencing memory problems, brain fog and insomnia.
"I remember one day I was sitting, staring at my screen for two hours and barely being able to write a sentence—the words just wouldn't come," she recalled. "I thought I was going mad or that I had early-onset dementia."
She discovered that the symptoms were related to menopause. In the U.K., nearly 6 million women and transgender men live with menopause. In the U.S., about 27 million people, or 20 percent of the workforce, experience the condition.
Nearly 20 percent of people with the condition in the U.S. have quit or considered leaving a job due to their symptoms, according to a 2022 report. Yet menopause is seldom discussed or supported in the workplace, said Melissa Ashley, co-founder of the U.S. edition of Let's all Talk Menopause, a health information company.
She said the stigma associated with menopause is partly to blame.
"Until the late 1920s, there was very little medical information on menopause, and many believed it was a sign of a women's hysteria," Ashley said. "We now know that isn't true, but the topic has always been very hush-hush as our society tends to idolize youth. And women, in particular, fear age discrimination."
How Symptoms Compromise Performance
Dr. Mache Seibel, a women's health expert who wrote Working Through Menopause: The Impact on Women, Businesses and the Bottom Line (BookBaby, 2022), said that work can be particularly difficult for those with menopause.
"Imagine coming into work fatigued, anxious, foggy, moody, not knowing when you might experience a sudden flush of heat and drench your clothes with sweat," he said. "All of that added to the tasks of the day both at work and at home."
Symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes.
- Night sweats.
- Mood changes.
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism.
- Thinning hair and dry skin.
A 2021 survey of more than 5,000 women in the various stages of menopause revealed that 3 in 5 dealt with adverse symptoms while on the job and 1 in 3 actively hid its effects from colleagues and managers. Almost half said they feared being stigmatized by bringing their condition to light.
"It's important to note that menopause is a decade-long experience with over 34 symptoms impacting women at the height of their careers," said Alessandra Henderson, CEO and founder of Elektra Health, a menopause education platform. "We spend more than 40-50 hours a week in the workplace, so that's an incredibly large number of employees who are navigating a topic that's unspoken and untreated."
5 Tips for Companies to Consider
After learning of her menopause, Dunn discovered that many companies in the U.K. lacked knowledge and awareness on the effects of the condition.
"Hospitality in the U.K. is a young person's career, and I was the oldest member of staff," Dunn explained. "As an organization, they were incredibly diverse racially and culturally, [but] they just hadn't reached the stage where menopause was impacting the workforce and business."
She told her company that her job was growing more difficult due to her symptoms. They tried to dissuade her from quitting, saying that they would be burdened with sharing her critical tasks. She decided to continue working, but her managers didn't show much sympathy to her challenges.
"I ended up having a panic attack and so resigned four days later," said Dunn, who co-founded the U.K. edition of Let's all Talk About Menopause. "I told them that the role was affecting my mental health."
Companies can better support employees with menopause and reduce stigma by:
- Educating all employees on the effects of menopause.
- Training and informing managers about the potential symptoms of menopause and how to support workers who experience the condition.
- Creating a menopause policy so those experiencing symptoms know what they are entitled to.
- Fostering an environment where people can comfortably engage in discussions about menopause.
- Treating menopause as a medical issue and highlighting it in health awareness initiatives.
"Investing in menopause support stands to reduce absenteeism, attract and retain senior female talent, and reduces health care costs," Henderson added.
Ashley emphasized the importance of workers and employers drawing information from credible sources because of the many myths and misnomers about menopause.
"There is no harm in reading blogs and commiserating on social media, but it is important to consult a qualified health care provider with questions regarding personal health or medical conditions," she said.
For example, the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) has a menopause practitioner finder on their website to help women locate a NAMS-certified menopause practitioner. And the Let's all Talk Menopause website features free webinars with highly credentialed health care professionals.
As Ashley said, "Understanding what occurs in the body during menopause and the variety of symptoms that can be experienced will empower women to take control of their health and quality of life as they strive for healthy aging."