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Every year, more than one million Americans go through menopause.
While this is a natural process, like puberty, it comes with significant physical and emotional challenges and changes. Both shortly before and during menopause, symptoms include hot flashes, chills, sweating, sleep disturbance, mood swings, and slowed metabolism.
According to a study in the United Kingdom, more than half of those going through menopause experience at least one severe symptom that interferes with functioning, often to the point that they have to leave their job.
Menopause creates medical, emotional, and functional challenges that can interfere with an employee’s performance and satisfaction at work, and yet current employment laws do not specifically offer protection for menopausal employees.
Here are five ways your company can create a more supportive environment for employees going through menopause.
Start talking about it
Unfortunately, menopause is still considered a taboo subject to many. Employees might feel like they can’t discuss it or the symptoms they’re experiencing, because the topic is considered “inappropriate” or “unprofessional.”
The first step to fight this stigma is to simply start talking about it in the workplace.
While it’s never appropriate to ask an employee about their personal medical information, employers can normalize and create space for discussion about menopause in general.
If an employee does voluntarily disclose that they are menopausal, encourage them to share their related needs with their manager, HR representative, or supervisor. When these concerns are brought up, validate and address them by offering your support.
Offer menopause-specific benefits
During menopause, an employee might have doctor’s appointments to address their medical symptoms, increased sick days due to the physical symptoms, and additional mental health challenges.
As you promote discussion around menopause, consider implementing extra sick leave or personal leave for menopausal employees to accommodate these needs.
Have information available about therapists and coaches who can help, so you can provide referrals to employees who might need extra support. Make sure your health plan includes in-network providers who specialize in treating menopause and related conditions, and are accepting new patients.
Since everyone’s needs are different, consider conducting a survey, soliciting feedback about what benefits and support employees would find most helpful. If possible, keep the survey anonymous to allow employees to honestly share their feedback and needs, without disclosing that they’re menopausal.
These surveys can be part of an ongoing conversation. Continue to request anonymous feedback as you implement new benefits so you can improve these programs.
Consult health and mental health professionals
Another way to determine what kinds of health initiatives are most effective is to speak with physicians and other health professionals who treat menopausal patients.
Get feedback from them about how menopause can impact work and what needs these employees may have. Use this information to preemptively offer initiatives and benefits, so employees don’t have to come to you with suggestions.
Also seek out therapists, psychologists, or other mental health professionals with expertise in menopause. They can speak to your menopausal employees’ potential mental health needs, and ensure that any mental health initiatives you implement are inclusive to this population.
Offering an Employee Assistance Program with a comprehensive mental health solution connects employees with therapists and coaches who can support them as they go through this phase of life.
In addition to physical symptoms and changes, menopause impacts mood, mental health, and cognitive abilities, so there is an increased need for mental health support and treatment for these employees.
You may even invite a qualified mental health professional to offer an educational seminar for employees about menopause, and take that opportunity to remind all employees about the benefits available to them.
Give employees control over their environment and work schedule
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, work cultures around the United States have shifted significantly. We’ve learned that employees don’t need to sit rigidly and attentively at a desk for eight hours straight to be productive or do their jobs effectively.
In fact, different people have different ideal schedules and environmental needs to be at their best. For example, there isn’t one ideal sleep schedule. Some people function best late at night, while others work better in the early morning.
Menopause symptoms can be uncomfortable and even painful, which makes functioning in a traditional office setting challenging.
By allowing employees to control their environment and schedule, working from home and making adjustments to their work day when needed, they can be comfortable and meet their needs without interfering with their ability to do their job.
Provide menopause-specific training for management
Employees in leadership positions require training to understand the needs of menopausal employees, and how to start and maintain these conversations appropriately. They also need to understand the company’s stance for responding to menopausal employees’ needs and requests for accommodations.
HR and people leaders are the first line of contact, and their response can make or break an employee’s decision about whether to stay with a company.
When they understand how to appropriately and effectively navigate this conversation, and implement health initiatives with menopausal employees in mind, they can ensure these employees feel supported and welcome in the workplace.
Menopause presents unique challenges to employees and can significantly interfere with productivity and personal wellbeing, causing many to leave the workforce all together. With appropriate support, you can help these employees do their best work and increase their life satisfaction, while retaining top talent.
Read this blog to discover how to develop a workplace that continually fosters wellbeing at work, attracting, engaging, and retaining your employees.