Although 75% of American women in their 40s and 50s are working, only a tiny fraction of U.S. employers currently offer accommodations for those experiencing the disruptive and sometimes debilitating symptoms of menopause that eventually hit most women in this age group.
But that could be starting to change—significantly—as employers recognize the productivity and financial costs of failing to support employees who are going through menopause.
A new study released by benefits consultant NFP shows that while only 4% of U.S. employers currently offer menopause accommodations, a third are considering adding them within the next five years. NFP surveyed more than 500 HR leaders across the U.S. who work at employers of various sizes and industries.
The stigma around menopause is lessening overall as Hollywood superstars like Oprah Winfrey talk publicly about it, federal lawmakers consider bills like the Menopause Research Act of 2022 to steer more money toward menopause research and events like World Menopause Day are held.
These efforts could be among those pushing U.S.-based employers to recognize the impact of menopause on their female workers, as companies including Microsoft, Genentech, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and the National Basketball Association recently rolled out benefits to support menopausal employees. As the trend is expected to pick up speed, experts say, now is the time for HR to educate itself on the value of menopause benefits.
Why menopause benefits are important
Menopause benefits, experts say, can both improve wellness for employees and make financial sense for employers.
The hormonal changes brought on by menopause can cause symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disruption, lower energy levels, brain fog and mood changes in 85% of women, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Employers can also feel the effects of menopause. For example, women tend to go through menopause mid-career—making it more expensive to replace them and the wealth of knowledge that they hold, experts say. Additionally, menopausal symptoms can result in lost work and medical costs for employers as high as $26.6 billion, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“One in four women experiencing menopause consider leaving work during this time, which is very expensive for employers because they have to recruit new people into the organization,” says expert Deborah Garlick. “So, actually providing an environment where it’s comfortable to talk about menopause and support someone is cheaper than losing talent from your business.”
Garlick is the director of Menopause Friendly Australia and director and founder of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace. This U.K. firm specializes in professional training to help employers support women in menopause.
Biopharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb rolled out menopause benefits at its U.K. and Ireland operations several years ago after one of its integrated healthcare managers began having menopausal symptoms. She asked for support not only for herself but also on behalf of other women at the organization, recalls Elinora Pisanti, human resources executive director at Bristol Myers Squibb in the U.K., Ireland and interim-Italy, in an interview with HRE.
“In the U.K. and Ireland, 61% of our workers are women, and 21% [of them] are over the age of 51, so that means one in four of our colleagues may experience menopause,” Pisanti says. “We take the wellbeing of our people very seriously, and it’s important to us that we can really bring our best selves to work.”
To that aim, Bristol Myers became one of the early adopters of menopause benefits. Starting in 2021, the company provided employees access to services from My Menopause Center, which offers consultations with doctors who specialize in menopause, as well as provides personalized treatment plans that may include hormone therapy.
The biopharmaceutical company also conducts educational webinars to explain the science of menopause and to help managers and leaders support employees, Pisanti says. And some of the organization’s facilities have wellness rooms, she adds, where employees experiencing menopause can rest and recharge.
Such efforts earned Bristol Myers the 2022 and 2023 menopause-friendly employer award from The Menopause Friendly Accreditation, founded by Garlick’s Henpicked.
Bristol Myers plans to expand its menopause benefits to other countries where it operates, including the U.S., Pisanti says.
How to form a menopause benefits program
Although 64% of working American women want menopause-specific benefits, only 14% believe employers recognize a need for such benefits, according to a Bank of America report. The firm surveyed 2,000 women nationwide between the ages of 40-65 at companies with at least 1,000 employees.
Given that employee interest—and the potential business ROI of such benefits—Garlick says HR leaders should start exploring how to get such a program off the ground.
One of the first steps in creating a menopause benefits program is to gather data on the percentage of women who are menopause-age at the organization. This will support a business case for any program, Pisanti says.
Next, ask women how the employer can support them. Employee resource groups composed mainly of women in their 40s and 50s can be a good starting place for conversations, Garlick says.
“The common threads we see with employers who go above and beyond is they clearly demonstrate they are thinking about this thoughtfully, rather than a check-the-box exercise,” Garlick says. “They ask their colleagues what will be helpful and then put those plans in place based on the feedback. They really do engage their colleagues throughout.”
She notes, however, that it can be challenging to get employees to talk about menopause—a topic that some consider taboo or potentially career-limiting for fear of age discrimination.
With feedback from employees, HR can determine which benefits to offer. These can range from providing access to women’s health providers who specialize in treating menopause to arranging adequate support, including flexible schedules or cooling fans on desks, experts say.
From there, the next critical action, Garlick says, is to draft a policy or guidance document. This can outline available menopause benefits and how employees can access them, as well as policies for working from home and taking sick leave due to symptoms of menopause.
“[A guidance document] seems to make a difference. It is demonstrating within your organization that this is a subject that’s very important,” Garlick says.
She also recommends training managers on how to discuss menopausal symptoms with their teams and on how to provide support.
Growth projections of menopause benefits
Interest in formalized employer support for menopausal women is expanding across the globe, Garlick says.
The U.K. has become a leader in this area, as 53% of employers there currently offer menopause support to employees; that figure could grow, given that 81% of U.K.-based employers believe it’s in their companies’ best interest to support employees who are going through menopause, according to the Aviva Working Lives Report 2023: Spotlight on Menopause, which surveyed more than 200 employers.
Garlick’s U.K.-based Henpicked organization is looking to expand into Denmark, France, Germany, Spain and Australia; in the latter two, lawmakers are exploring legislation mandating that employers provide PTO for women experiencing menstruation or menopause.
Henpicked also has opened an office in Washington state that is now fielding questions from U.S.-based employers about creating menopause programs.
While the U.S. is substantially behind some other countries in this area, demand here is growing, Garlick says, noting she’s seen a number of global organizations that have launched menopause support programs overseas now “looking to see what they can do in the U.S.”
Joe Connolly, co-founder and CEO of Minnesota-based women’s healthcare company Visana Health, has seen the interest firsthand. His firm added menopause health services to its offering in 2022, and employer demand soared 10-fold this year.
“We’ve seen astronomical demand from both our patients and from employers,” Connolly tells HRE.
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