Don’t Let Menopause Derail Your Career

Here are some steps you can take if menopause symptoms are affecting your job, including talking to your manager — you might receive more support than you think you will.

A smiling female executive on the roof of a building in a big city with the skyline in the background.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With a 40-year career as a CEO and in the prime of my career, I am acutely aware of the many health-related challenges unique to working women throughout their lives. After all, I began my career well before the first maternity leave was passed, and I remember spending my first pregnancy hiding my bump from my work colleagues for as long as possible.

Today, I am a passionate advocate for life options and am confident that our way to the future is to attract and keep the best talent across all life stages. More companies are offering fertility support, lactation rooms, childcare benefits and even college counseling services, supporting new mothers all the way through to an empty nest.

So, a few years ago when I heard that a valued senior employee in my company was opting for early retirement, I was confident that my life sciences company at the forefront of health advocacy had not failed to offer her every support.

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I was wrong.

My longtime employee confided that her worsening hormonal symptoms brought on by menopause were becoming more frequent and impossible to hide at work. She was dreading daily hot flashes, which would cause her to sweat profusely and drench her clothes. She felt anxious, stressed and drained of the satisfaction and joy she had always felt for her job.

I realized that if my own employee felt too embarrassed to discuss menopause and to ask for options, how many other women must feel the same way and have nowhere to turn? How many women just opt to leave the workforce?

The short answer is … a lot.

Menopause has a major economic impact in the U.S.

In the U.S., up to 20% of the workforce are affected by some degree of menopause symptoms. Last year, my company conducted a Women in the Workplace survey of working women between 50 and 65 years of age in the U.S. and found that four out of 10 respondents indicated they were negatively impacted by their menopause symptoms at work, with 17% quitting or considering quitting their job due to symptoms.

Since the average age of onset is 51 years, many women are still supporting their children through school or their budding careers while often also providing caregiving and/or financial help to older relatives. Benefits such as employer-sponsored health care and catch-up contributions to a 401(k) retirement account provide strong financial incentives for maintaining a career.

Furthermore, menopause often occurs when women are most likely to move into top leadership positions. These are women who, in addition to their work experience, have gained tremendous life experience along the way that translates into being a more effective leader, such as establishing care schedules for children or older relatives, multitasking logistics and complexities of school systems and family vacations, making high-pressure decisions and hard judgment calls.

This is the type of employee I want in my company, and I will fight to keep her.

The days of suffering in silence are gone

The impact of menopause varies tremendously for each individual, with hot flashes and night sweats often cited as the most disruptive symptoms. However, with over 30 symptoms that may manifest, including anxiety, difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations and insomnia, menopause can have an insidious effect on a woman’s career as sleepless nights exacerbate brain fog and memory lapses, in turn eroding confidence. For decades, we hid these symptoms.

Whether you are one of the 1 million women who enter menopause each year or have been dealing with symptoms for a while, today is the time to act. Don’t let this natural life phase derail a satisfying and productive career that you have spent decades building. Don’t let treatable symptoms halt your financial momentum and incentives.

Menopause inevitably impacts half the working population; if it’s impacting you, here are some steps you can take:

  • Educate yourself about menopause. Unbelievably, medical colleges rarely include menopause education in their curriculum. In the U.S., 80% of medical residents reported feeling “barely comfortable” discussing or treating menopause, and only 20% of OB/GYN residency programs provide menopause training, mostly through elective courses, according to a survey by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Fortunately, there is a lot of information available online; arm yourself with knowledge and identify the symptoms that are affecting your quality of life.
  • Seek treatment. While menopause is a natural life phase, the symptoms caused by hormonal fluctuations and imbalance can be treated. We are rapidly learning more about hormone health and optimization; it is no longer acceptable for a health care provider to say that hot flashes and fatigue are “a normal part of aging.” It’s not. If your provider tells you there is nothing they can do, find a new provider.
  • Examine all possibilities before making a decision. In the case of my employee who requested early retirement, she knew that her hot flashes would occur every day around 2:20 p.m. So, once the issue was uncovered, we agreed to change her hours so she could work from home until it resolved, and I was thrilled to retain an experienced and talented employee. Not every workplace has this flexibility, but according to a recent report from Bank of America, the primary reason employers don’t offer menopause benefits is because their employees don’t request them. Before you decide to leave your job, speak with your manager, your HR and your colleagues — you may be pleasantly surprised by the empathy and support you receive.
  • Normalize the conversation. We all need to normalize being human and seeking medical help. If someone came to work with a limp, we’d tell them to see a doctor. We must understand that it’s acceptable to request help for menopause in the same way.

Let’s continue to have uncomfortable conversations

As more women step up to share their stories and more studies reveal the widespread impact of menopause in business, we are finally seeing the stigma of this last barrier in workplace equity dissolve.

While it’s not comfortable discussing a topic that has been taboo for so long, this is how momentum and change are accomplished. The difficulties I faced as a CEO and new mother decades ago seem shocking when viewed through today’s perspective where maternity and paternity leave are commonplace.

By taking a stand now, we can accelerate the momentum and create a work environment supportive of women in all life stages… for us, for our daughters and for future generations of women.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Terry Weber
CEO, Biote

Terry Weber, CEO and executive consultant, has transformed the business models of health care, retail and automotive industry giants. Terry is known for being a disruptive leader, building extraordinary, high-performing, high-functioning teams and successfully navigating diverse industry sectors, seamlessly adapting them to the changing landscape of business and technological innovation.