The business costs of ignoring menopause
Aristotle mentioned it, a French physician named it in 1821, and in the 1930s doctors thought it was a disease. But even after all these years, we’re still not talking enough about menopause — and that’s a costly problem for employers.
Even though it’s a natural process (and definitely not a disease), menopause can come with symptoms that make it hard to manage work and everyday life. But the secrecy and stigma around menopause can make it difficult for people to find the support they need. And standard benefits packages don’t offer much help, either.
For women, the result can be shame and frustration. For employers, ignoring menopause means lost productivity and employee turnover. For payers, it can mean higher medical spending.
If this is so important, why aren’t more people talking about it?
At work, women face sexism (we still make 84 percent of what our male colleagues earn).1 Then, as we reach the peaks of our careers, ageism kicks in. There are countless stories about women who hit 50-ish only to lose hard-earned standing at their jobs, or suddenly discover that it’s much more difficult to find a new position.2
And then there’s menopause. It’s associated with both sex and age, along with the taboo topic of women’s reproductive health. On top of that, the rare pop culture reference to menopause is almost always a character who’s overly emotional and out of control.
Put all of these pieces together and it’s no wonder people are reluctant to speak up about their experiences and needs.
What it’s like to go through menopause without support
Since it’s tough to even bring up menopause — and women have legitimate concerns about discrimination — many people manage this major life change in silence.
Experts estimate that 85 percent of women who go through menopause have at least one related symptom.3 Among the most common are:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood changes
- Weight gain
In a 2021 survey of more than 5,000 women in various stages of menopause, three out of five said they’d had to deal with difficult symptoms while on the job — and one in three actively worked to hide symptoms from their colleagues and managers. Almost half said they were afraid they’d be stigmatized if people knew they were going through menopause.4
The business costs of ignoring menopause
When people aren’t supported through menopause, it impacts their employers and payers, too. According to a recent Ovia survey, women suffering from menopause symptoms have:
- 121 percent higher use of healthcare resources to manage and treat symptoms
- 57 percent more days of lost work productivity
- $2,100 in additional costs per year spent on healthcare and attributed to absenteeism
Another study that included 17,322 women with diagnosed menopause found even higher costs, including increased medical expenses ($4,315 versus $2,972), pharmacy expenses ($1,366 versus $908), sick leave costs ($647 versus $599), and sick leave days (3.57 versus 3.3). 5 These costs translate to payers.
Struggling through menopause can also take a toll on productivity and engagement. The same study found that employees with diagnosed symptoms had 10.9% lower annual productivity than people without symptoms.6 On a global scale, experts estimate that those productivity losses cost upwards of $150 billion each year.7
Menopause matters for keeping some of your most valuable employees
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. workers with menopause symptoms have either quit or considered leaving a job because of their symptoms.8 That’s already more people than employers can afford to lose. But consider this: on average, symptoms start in a person’s late 40s, when they are well into their careers. That means that without support, employers risk losing senior leaders with indispensable experience and knowledge.
How to truly support employees
If you’re ready to support employees through menopause, there are a few changes that can make all the difference:
- Create an environment where employees can talk comfortably without fear of discrimination. A good first step toward this culture shift is training managers to understand menopause symptoms and know how to be supportive.
- Highlight menopause information in your health awareness initiatives, including symptoms and available treatments, as well as available benefits.
- Develop an official, company-wide menopause leave policy, and normalize taking leave so employees aren’t afraid to request it.
- Most importantly, invest in a solution, like Ovia Health, to help employees learn about menopause, track their health, manage symptoms, and get expert guidance when they need it.
Building the future of menopause at work
The years of silence around women’s health have taken a toll. Employees have been asked to manage a tremendous amount of stress out of shame or risk of discrimination — and some have had to leave their jobs when the burden became too much.
But we can make a huge, positive change for a large and important segment of our population. We can make it okay to talk about menopause. We can make education accessible, so people know what to expect and how to get treatment if they need it. And we can create workplaces that support employees through their major life changes.
October is World Menopause Awareness Month. What better time to invest in the culture shift and menopause care people need? It’s a huge benefit to employees, and it’s a smart way to save costs and attract and retain some of the very best talent.
Ovia Health, a Labcorp subsidiary, has served more than 17 million family and parenthood journeys since 2012. Ovia’s dedication to women’s and family health is founded in evidence-based data. As a result, Ovia is the only digital health solution clinically proven to effectively identify and intervene with high-risk conditions. The company’s 50+ clinical programs, including predictive coaching and personalized care plans, help prevent unnecessary healthcare costs, improve health outcomes, and foster a family-friendly workplace that increases retention and return to work. For more information, visit www.oviahealth.com.
1: Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/
2: Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2016/03/older-women-are-being-forced-out-of-the-workforce
3: BMC Women’s Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4542113/
4: The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/menopause-what-employers-need-to-know.aspx
5: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: https://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/2013/04000/Direct_and_Indirect_Costs_of_Women_Diagnosed_With.14.aspx
6: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: https://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/2013/04000/Direct_and_Indirect_Costs_of_Women_Diagnosed_With.14.aspx
7: Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-18/women-are-leaving-the-workforce-for-a-little-talked-about-reason
8: The Society for Human Resource Management: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/menopause-what-employers-need-to-know.aspx