Menopause is a workplace issue

Taking care of your female employees’ healthcare needs doesn’t just mean periods and pregnancies — it means menopause, too.

Fifty-nine percent of working women between 45 and 55 years old say menopause symptoms have a negative impact on them at work, according to a 2019 survey by human resources company CIPD. The most common issues reported are reduced ability to concentrate, more stress, and less patience with clients and colleagues.

However, most employers and employees have adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy around these issues, says Debi Yadegari, founder and CEO of employer paid benefit Villyge, a platform that provides coaching for working parents.

“When women first entered the workforce, there was this emphasis on saying ‘we are the same as men and we can work just as well.’ We’ve long ignored all of those things that make us different,” Yadegari says. “Up until very recently, some women would still even hide their pregnancies.”

Read more: Menstrual equity: What it is and why it can help with attraction and retention strategies

While the conversations around fertility support and pregnancy have become more commonplace, the topic of periods — and the lack there-of — remains relatively taboo in office settings. But if employers want to support women over the entire span of their careers, they need to learn to support their health at each stage, too.

“These are all sticky issues that often managers have no idea how to handle and HR has no idea how to coach their managers on,” Yadegari says. “And so what typically happens is that there’s silence. Employees are not getting the support that they need from management because management is afraid of what they should be doing and what they should be saying.”

Well-intentioned managers may often miss the mark when it comes to these life events that impact women and any person experiencing periods, no matter how they identify. And the consequences go beyond just health — it could be hindering employees’ success at work.

Read more: PTO for periods? Why women workers are asking for this new perk

“Without support, it can affect their career trajectory,” says Yadegari. “When you look at the [people] that menopause affects, they are at the age where they’re probably managing teams or they’re taking on new roles, and all of a sudden they’re [also dealing with] menopause.”

Menopause symptoms can range anywhere from random heat flashes and mood swings to lapses in focus, and even temporary memory loss — all things that can make it difficult for an employee to successfully navigate their workday without the right accommodations.

Those accommodations should include flexible time off for doctor’s appointments or for days where menopause flare-ups are bad. Yadegari also says the work environment should allow employees to feel safe leaving a Zoom call abruptly, or even just allowing people to work remotely for as long as they need until they’re comfortable returning to the office. Communication is key, as are written policies that lay out these expectations.

“Once you have a written policy, it’s a statement to the world that we’re supporting this, we recognize that it’s inevitable and we’re here for our employees,” says Yadegari. “That we need to recognize our employees for who they are.”