What if you had the opportunity to easily address a health issue that affected the productivity of more than half of the women in your workplace? Very few employers would hesitate to leap into action when productivity is on the line.
By 2020, it's estimated that the symptoms of menopause will affect more than 75 percent of working women in the United States. Those symptoms include changes in memory and concentration, fatigue brought on by sleep disruptions, mood swings and hot flashes - all of which can affect work performance. Yet, according to a national Menopause at Work survey, only one percent of respondents say their employers offer support specifically for women in menopause.
For as much as employers have begun to embrace a culture of health in the workplace, there's still a gap when it comes to issues, like menopause. Employers play a critical role in helping employees manage their everyday health. That includes creating a work environment that's conducive to productivity and well-being.
Providing support and education about the facts of menopause will help the women in your workplace better manage their symptoms at work and in their daily lives - and go a long ways toward building that culture of health for all employees.
Symptoms in the workplace
The national Menopause at Work survey by the Working Mother Research Institute and Pfizer found that managing menopausal symptoms in their work life is extremely or somewhat difficult for nearly half (48 percent) of working women ages 45 - 65 who had experienced symptoms in the past year.
What you may be surprised to know is how the respondents described the impact of symptoms on their work performance:
- One-third felt that their symptoms prevented them from performing at their best.
- One-third have tried to hide menopausal symptoms in the workplace. This number increases to 50 percent for women working in mostly male environments.
Hot flashes, changes in memory and concentration, and fatigue because of sleep disturbances were the most concerning symptoms in the workplace that women reported. Nearly every woman surveyed (98 percent) had experienced hot flashes, and two-thirds reported having hot flashes at least daily, at home and at work.
Even though these symptoms are a fact of later life, women are often uncomfortable or embarrassed to discuss their symptoms with work supervisors - especially if male. That hesitation even extends to their health care providers. That's why StayWell and the Endocrine Society's Hormone Health Network joined forces to create an online resource called the Menopause Map.TM
Comprehensive resource fills the information void
The Menopause Map website (http://www.hormone.org/MenopauseMap/) is a one-stop-shop that provides women with the knowledge, support and empowerment they need to manage their menopause needs. The site includes these tools and resources:
- Stage-appropriate information based on answers to questions about age and symptoms. For example, women in their 40s beginning to experience 'classic' symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, may have perimenopause. The Menopause Map describes a variety of lifestyle changes that may help to manage those symptoms.
- A personalized, printable guide, in English and Spanish, that can be taken to doctor appointments to facilitate a meaningful dialogue about their menopause journey
- Monthly e-newsletter sign-up, to receive regular updates and support
- Calculators that allow women to assess their risk for heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as evaluate calcium intake, and caloric burn rate
- Shared decision-making tools, such as a medication tracker, symptom tracker, questions for health care providers and links to resources, to help women manage their day-to-day and long-term symptoms
- Opportunities for peer-to-peer support through a partnership with the Red Hot Mamas, the nation's leader in menopause education, outreach, and patient support
A companion microsite and toolkit for health care providers include patient conversation starters, print-on-demand handouts and worksheets, and links to the Menopause Map.
StayWell and the Hormone Health Network launched the campaign in 2014 with a website and supporting emails, texts and social media. The effort was recognized with a National Information Award and a Web Health Award. Survey responses from Menopause Map users were overwhelmingly positive:
- More than 62 percent of women surveyed said they have a better understanding of menopause and the factors that affect it, and
- More than 83 percent of women surveyed say they understand the health risks of menopause and how to reduce those risks.
Support in the workplace
While employers can't replace employees when it comes to health care advice, it makes good business sense to help all employees be productive and have a sense of well-being. Here are three simple steps employers can take to remove the workplace stigma of menopause and create a more supportive workplace environment:
1. Talk about it.
Let employees know the topic is out in the open. Listen to employees. Work with your human resources team and get the word out to supervisors and managers, perhaps even providing training.
Will your organization's policies accommodate temperature changes within a workspace? Are personal fans allowed? Is your dress code flexible enough to allow women to dress in a way to stay cooler when hot flashes strike? Is flexible scheduling an option?
Regularly communicate policies to employees, and let them know that supervisors and managers are ready to talk about symptoms with them. Ask for feedback on how you're doing. Ask for their ideas.
2. Encourage peer-to-peer support.
Provide opportunities for employees to come together at work to share information and to learn about ways to manage their health status. Arrange a lunch-and-learn on menopause. If wellness champions are available in your workplace, consider engaging them in promoting the lunch-and-learns and informal gatherings.
Another option is to share information about online support groups such as the Red Hot MamasTM (http://redhotmamas.org/). Online discussion communities, facilitated by medical experts in the field, help women know that they're not alone in experiencing symptoms at work and in their personal lives.
3. Provide credible, easy-to-use resources.
Offer your employees engaging and interactive resources like the Menopause MapTM and the Hormone Health Network (http://www.hormone.org/). Work with your organization's health plan and wellness providers to deliver additional education and resources on menopause - directly to employees in newsletters and communications, and through provider networks and coaches.
Support for an aging workforce
If you think this doesn't matter, consider this: The phrase "silver tsunami" has been coined to describe the U.S. aging population and workforce. According to the 2010 Census, there are currently far fewer 25-year-olds than there are 45 to 64-year-olds.
To remain competitive, businesses will need to embrace and support their older workers and implement and age-friendly work environment. In fact, some companies are encouraging their employees to work later in life to meet employment and talent needs.
Addressing topics like menopause and the symptoms that affect the productivity and well-being of working women will help organizations survive - and thrive as the workforce transforms. To learn more about patient education and engagement, visit staywell.com.
About the Authors
Erin McCarthy, business development manager, StayWell - As a senior new business developer and strategist for StayWell, Erin consults with medical associations and nonprofit patient advocacy groups to identify goals and long-term communications and engagement solutions that advance organizational brands. Erin serves on the executive board for the YWCA Greensboro where she chairs the advocacy and racial justice committee. Erin holds a B.A. in communications studies and English literature from Trinity College in Vermont.
Cheretta Clerkley, MBA, CASE, CME, director of the Hormone Health Network, Endocrine Society- In her position as director of the Hormone Health Network for the Endocrine Society, Cheretta is responsible for leading the revitalization of the Network's public education programs and was instrumental in the redesign and launch of the new Menopause Map. Cheretta serves on the board of Temple University's Young Alumni Donor Association and volunteers as a mentor for the Bill and Melinda Gates College Success Foundation. She received her Bachelor's degree in journalism from Temple University and her Master's in Business Administration from the University of Maryland College.