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Unfortunately, menopause symptoms don’t stop when you walk into your office, punch in your timecard, or log in at home. In fact, menopause symptoms are significant contributors to stress and challenges at work. Even though women in this critical stage of life make up 20% of the female workforce in the U.S., some of the most unpleasant menopause symptoms—such as difficulty sleeping, increased anxiety, and hot flashes—are routinely ignored in the workplace. These very real symptoms are even fodder for cruel jokes. We need to acknowledge that menopause impacts many of us workers and we’re not ready to retire just because our ovaries did.
It’s impossible to form a truly inclusive and diverse workplace while neglecting an entire population of workers, but that is what has happened to those experiencing menopause. Our organization, Mineral, which provides HR and compliance solutions for more than a million small and midsize businesses, recently launched a poll to find out what percentage of employers were providing resources or benefits that support workers in menopause. The poll asked, “Do you (or does your employer) provide any employee benefits or resources to support peri/menopause?” Some 94% of respondents answered no.
Here are six ways employers can change this trend and promote menopause inclusivity with innovative benefits packages:
Prioritize medical insurance and mental health parity
One study found that 45% of individuals in menopause experience heart palpitations and panic, 46% experience forgetfulness, 18% experience severe headaches, and 41% experience joint pain. Employees need affordable coverage for these experiences. Employers should discuss tax-favored benefits like health savings accounts and health reimbursement accounts, or level-funded health plan options, with their broker.
Mental health coverage plays a huge role in supporting all employees, including those experiencing menopause. The federal Mental Health Parity Equity and Addiction Act generally requires group health plans to ensure mental health and substance use disorder benefits are not more restrictive than medical and surgical benefits. For example, a copay for a primary care provider cannot be less than a copay for a mental health provider. The law requires plans to perform a comparative analysis and document the results.
Employee assistance program
Another thing employers can do is establish an employee assistance program for perimenopausal and menopausal workers. Be sure to confirm with your EAP vendor that they have menopause-related expertise. A well-designed EAP provides counseling and support to help with the emotional and psychological changes often associated with menopause. Educational services through an EAP, such as seminars and workshops, can help employees better understand how their bodies are changing and what to expect. They can also provide medical referrals to specialized healthcare professionals.
Offer a wellness program
Employers should also implement wellness programs that include stress management, targeted fitness recommendations, and specific nutritional guidance for employees in menopause. When establishing a wellness program, employers will need to be mindful of state laws, as well as federal laws like the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Invest in telehealth
A fourth thing employers can do is establish a telehealth plan to help remove geographical barriers and physical limitations that may prevent access to quality menopause care. Imagine, for example, the specialized care a person living in rural Pennsylvania can receive by having remote access to specialists in New York City. Bear in mind that a telehealth plan is a group health plan and is subject to various laws with compliance obligations. When sourcing a plan, review the types of specialists to confirm there are some who are versed in menopause care.
Employee resource group
Employees themselves can create a voluntary employee resource group (supported by employers) to discuss the challenges of living and working with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. ERGs also play an important role in an employer’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, and they give valuable insight to leadership. Starting an ERG is a great way for employees and leaders who share an interest in or are experiencing menopause to come together and discover the best ways to support employees.
Explore other tools and resources
Additionally, employers can offer mobile apps like Peppy, Calm, or Midday at no cost to employees. This can provide information and tools to help with symptoms. Some health insurance providers offer similar tools. Be sure to check with your provider.
Providing desk fans, flexible work arrangements, and a quiet, cool room or easy outdoor access for breaks are also welcome options for supporting workers. Additional time off to accommodate the onset of symptoms or medical appointments may also be helpful.
Managers who might consider menopausal employees as problematic likely need education on how to be more supportive and compassionate. Train managers and leaders, and work to destigmatize the topic in general so that menopausal employees feel able to communicate their concerns and work with their team leaders or HR to formulate a plan to maintain productivity.
Lastly, open up the conversation to all employees. Some may welcome the opportunity to discuss what they see a family member or friend going through and learn about ways they can provide support. Others may welcome a clearer picture and understanding of what menopause is. A workplace culture of understanding, support, and inclusion benefits everyone. In all cases, support open and honest discussions to understand what each employee needs, and use that to help perimenopausal and menopausal employees stay connected and productive.
Although the U.S. does not have any specific labor laws in place regarding menopause, discrimination or harassment laws could apply in certain situations. Employers can work with their legal counsel to establish a formal menopause policy for their workplace, which will establish an employer’s commitment and support to all employees. For example, U.K. media outlet Channel 4 (C4) created a menopause policy that recognizes the need to support employees experiencing hormonal changes during pregnancy, fertility treatment, gender transitioning, and menopause.
Likewise, other countries are progressing in efforts to establish standards. The U.K. established a menopause task force; the British Standard Institute celebrated the launch of the menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace standard. Plus, countries like Japan, Spain, and Indonesia have labor laws in place for those experiencing menstrual issues.
Supporting menopausal employees benefits everyone. Remove the stigma of talking about menopause, get educated, and review your benefits, policies, and practices to ensure they provide resources to best care for your employees.
Angela Surra is the principal benefits expert at Mineral. Lisa Deshantz-Cook is the managing content editor at Mineral.