“Hey, Boss, if you want me to come back to work, here’s what it’ll take”
Feb. 22, 2022
Lack of workplace concern for midlife issues is causing droves of women to call it quits. The time is ripe for a revolution.
You’ve probably heard about the Great Resignation: A staggering 33 million Americans have quit their jobs since the spring of 2021. For some, the COVID-19 crisis pushed them out of their positions by making their jobs untenable; for others, it triggered a big rethink of how and why they want to work.
As a “return to normalcy” looms, this shift has been especially strong among women. And for those who are peri-menopausal, the idea of hauling their potentially insomnia-addled, hot-flashing selves into the office for an 8 AM meeting is looking especially repugnant.
It’s a topic that was brought to light in a New York Times article recently, “Take This Hot Flash and Shove It!” which roused a national conversation about the infuriating lack of consideration and amenities for office-going midlife women.
“It has been such a luxury to be working from home while in the throes of menopause,” says Julie, 49, an accountant at a large Los Angeles firm. “I tell my team I’m running out for a coffee when I need to nap. I don’t always put my camera on during Zoom calls so no one can watch the hot-flash sweat drip.”
The Massive Impact of Menopause on the Workplace
As that article made clear, Julie is hardly the only woman feeling this way. There are over 60 million females aged 50 or older in the US – plus women make up 57% of the workforce and rising. In other words, a lot of women are grappling with this issue.
Want some more numbers? In a 2019 survey in the U.K., organized by BUPA and CIPD, three in five women said menopause negatively affected them at work. What’s more, almost 900,000 women left their jobs during an unspecified time period because of menopausal symptoms.
Sadly, and infuriatingly, peri- and menopausal women have few options in most workplaces. “Women whose symptoms are disruptive use their PTO for their worst days and often work longer hours or avoid career growth opportunities because they are concerned about the perception of their work quality or the additional stress,” says Emily Klover, an organizational psychologist in Sacramento.
Not only is this situation vexing for female employees, it’s also a blow to their employers. “It’s not comfortable to talk about productivity and operating costs while discussing a person’s lived experience, but it is important to note that accommodations are not only the right thing to do, but they’re also responsible business moves,” says Klover. “Women experiencing menopause are generally later in their careers. They hold a wealth of experience, knowledge, and skills that cannot be easily replaced. Amid a labor shortage, this shouldn’t be minimized.”
It's Time to Speak Up
Now may be the perfect opportunity for women to get the at-work support they need. Because employers have to listen and do something, or they will be left holding the proverbial bag.
“The Great Resignation is a bit of a misnomer – it's that we women will leave for other, more progressive employers, or work for ourselves,” says Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester and founder of The Fifth Trimester consulting, which helps businesses advance gender equity by supporting working parents/caregivers. “Any benefits investment in women's health is an investment in your company's ability to attract and retain the best talent.”
Becca, who lives in Florida, can relate to these thoughts of going elsewhere. “I have what is often a public-facing role at a museum,” she says. “Sometimes I am too damn sweaty to interact with visitors. It’s so embarrassing, but how do I explain things to my male boss? I’m beginning to think that, much as I love my job, I need a new one.”
Agrees Michele, who works in technology in Dallas, “I am the ‘den mom’ in an office full of Millennials. There have been condescending remarks about my menopause symptoms, which is deeply hurtful. I’m working on setting up an LLC and becoming a freelancer from home to avoid this.”
5 Moves to Make Work More Menopause-Friendly
So, what can be done? We’re glad you asked. Here’s expert advice.
1. Tap your courage to communicate. Hey, ladies! This is unfair, to be made to feel embarrassed about our basic biology. Speaking up is a show of strength. “Menopause is a topic that is not discussed in the work environment, though we have made progress in vocalizing and acknowledging the needs of pregnant women and new parents, says Brody. “We cannot solve problems we can't see, so when you make those challenges visible, you're helping people far beyond yourself,” she notes. “Whatever you're going through, there are certainly other employees who have similar needs and cannot, for one reason or another, speak up. Whatever privilege you may have, use it for the broader good.”
2. Research what’s available. Sad but true: Menopause and its symptoms are typically not covered by corporate health programs or support offers. However, many companies offer benefits that can be hugely helpful. “If a company offers health or coaching services, a woman can work with a third party to develop skills, tools, and interventions that make their symptoms more manageable. Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs that can be used to connect with therapists or experts in particular fields,” says Klover.
3. Fight for the flex. Flexibility can be a major boost for women dealing with peri- and menopausal symptoms. If you had a wicked bout of insomnia and wound up bingeing on Olivia Colman movies all night, then going to work late morning could help. If brain fog creeps in around 4 PM, maybe you can head home to chill out and play catch-up later. When approaching management about a more flexible schedule (or any request, actually), Brody suggests you come with a plan, not an ask. So that could be something like, “I’d like to leave early, around 3:30 PM, between one and two days a week, but will be back online later the same day to complete my work” rather than, “What kind of flexible schedule could I have?”
4. Choose the right contact when having the convo. The first option is to work directly with your manager, which may be your most comfortable relationship. “But not everyone has the same level of comfort with their leadership,” says Klover, “and would feel more comfortable speaking with HR, which – at the very least – can help you navigate available options. Just remember, HR is representing the interest of the company and will not necessarily be the advocate you need.”
5. Use your power to lead change. Are you a leader in your workplace? Kudos, and you can help create space for this vital conversation. “To get to the point where we can overcome the shame and embarrassment, we need to be having more conversations that can start with front-line managers and among women in employee resource groups,” explains Klover. Women with a platform or position of influence can begin normalizing the discussion. Open a dialogue, and you’ve taken a giant step towards supporting womankind.
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