When you enter perimenopause, every day is "Take Your Menopause to Work Day." Menopause marks the complete cessation of the menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months and is very often accompanied by unpleasant symptoms. Most are completely unaware that women may experience over 34 symptoms as they enter perimenopause, the six to ten year symptom-laden period before menopause, and that perimenopause generally begins between the ages of 38 and 48. Women of earlier generations suffered through these symptoms with little to no support inside and outside the workplace. Without a daycare program where women can leave their hot flashes and discomfort, the best step companies can take is to educate their employees and employers. This can greatly enhance a woman's quality of life, productivity, happiness and well being in the place where she spends most of her waking hours.
A 2010 report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee states that "the number of women in the workforce has grown by 44.2 percent over the last 25 years, from 46 million in 1984 to 66 million in 2009" (6). It also states, "The role of women in the American economy is of indisputable importance. The future of the American economy depends on women's work, both inside and outside the home" (1). More women are working longer and into middle-age. That women need to work to maintain the stability of the economy is undeniable; that those women will eventually enter menopause is inevitable.
In a study entitled Depression, Quality of Life, Work Productivity and Resource Use Among Women, Pfizer reported in 2011 that the most commonly reported symptom of menopause is hot flashes, which affect the majority of women over age 45 and 75% of women over age 50. They are linked to depressive symptoms. The same study showed that women who were experiencing depression in menopause had higher instances of absenteeism, presenteeism and activity impairment (Page 1, Figure 2). It states:
For women experiencing menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, depression was associated with lower levels of mental and physical quality of life. In addition, women with depression had lower productivity and greater impairment in activities of daily living as compared to women not experiencing depression and greater healthcare resource utilization (1).
The University of Nottingham did a study in 2010 called Women's Experience of Working Through Menopause, which examined many facets of menopausal women in the workforce. 84% of women agreed or strongly agreed that menopause is a natural stage of life, not a 'medical disorder' (38). Women were also asked to indicate which menopause symptoms were affecting their work performance. The top three symptoms were poor concentration, tiredness and poor memory (41). The North American Menopause Society confirmed on March 18th that menopause is linked to poor memory. 78% of the sample agreed or strongly agreed their job performance had been negatively affected by their menopausal symptoms, or that their performance would have been affected had they not put in additional effort to overcome those symptoms (43). 70% of women had not told their managers that they were experiencing menopause, indicating that many managers may not know that their employees are fighting personal battles that may affect their work. Pages 50 and 51 show ways the women in this sample chose to cope with menopause, and many of them include talking with women who have experienced it, learning more about it and making time for themselves. Finally, women were also asked how satisfied they were with the support they received inside and outside of work:
It can be seen from the table that outside of work, the majority of women were satisfied with emotional support from family and friends, and informational support from GPs and specialists. It is notable that emotional support from line managers and colleagues was valued (45).
The low ratings of formal support at work and the value women place on emotional support from colleagues show that businesses need a formal corporate wellness program to cater to the health needs of their female employees. Improving this system will increase awareness among workers, prepare them for or aid them in their struggles with menopause and ultimately contribute to a more productive, more enjoyable workplace as these women are presented avenues to get the help they may need.
Insomnia, another very common symptom of perimenopause and menopause, has been linked to huge unnecessary spending, as reported by CNN in 2011. According to this study, insomnia costs the US $63 billion annually in lost productivity, an average of about $2,280 in salary per person. The head researcher, Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., a psychiatric epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, said most workers didn't miss work due to insomnia, but more often showed up too tired to do their jobs effectively.
Shmirshky Universal has developed the robust Corporate Wellness Program that employees find very helpful when dealing with or anticipating perimenopause and menopause in the workplace. This program is beneficial for men as well. Men are surrounded by women at home and in the office and appreciate the education that enables them to be increase the quality of their lives and relationships. Having gone through it myself, I discuss Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness and provide employees insight from an informed point of view. Talking about menopause helps dispel misconceptions, and motivates and inspires women to understand that they are not alone. It helps them to trust how they feel and to get the help they need and deserve.
Employees leave with a better understanding of how to deal with perimenopause and menopause, whether they are currently in it, anticipating it or reveling in its departure. Employers experience a ripple affect of camaraderie and employee enthusiasm as they gain appreciation for the company's commitment to wellness and preventative health.
Many women have forgotten what it feels like to function at 100%. By offering employees ways to improve their quality of life and functionality both at home and in the workplace, we come closer to breaking taboos and busting open the conversation about this inevitable stage in every woman's life.
If you're in perimenopause or if you've gone through it, you know you can't leave your menopause at home. It follows you everywhere -- to the bedroom, to the store and even to the office.
How do you think a corporate wellness program would benefit you in your workplace?
Ellen Dolgen is the author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness -- a cut-to-the-chase guidebook on perimenopause and menopause.