Retaining Talent: Why We Need to Talk About Menopause at Work

Recognizing World Menopause Day this October 18, we’re resharing our VIBE Voices article focused on menopause care. Addressing this need, both with conversation and action, can help business leaders improve retention of midlife workers and create inclusive measures to better support multiple generations of employees, now and into the future.

This October 18, we’re honoring World Menopause Day. Check our blog post, which includes perspectives from Workday employees about menopause and how it has impacted their careers, and the benefits Workday is providing to better support this employee population.

While we’ve made it through many initial challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic, difficulties persist. One notable effect is the shift of women in the workplace. During the Great Resignation, workers in their 40s and 50s quit at the highest rates, and we know that many women left the workforce for a multitude of reasons. 

Thankfully now, research shows that women who quit during the pandemic are returning to the workplace. To increase retention and improve employee experience, workplaces can provide greater support to these workers by establishing inclusive measures throughout their working lives. One area workplaces can provide better support: menopause care. 

What the Research Says: How Menopause Impacts Workers

Menopause, and its associated symptoms, aren’t typical topics of conversation at work. A person is medically considered menopausal when they’ve gone a full year without menstrual cycles, yet they need support along the perimenopause journey that precedes menopause. While people have different experiences throughout this life transition, early perimenopause symptoms can include irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, dry and itchy skin, insomnia, cognitive challenges, changes in mood, and more. Half of the world’s population will experience menopause, yet organizations avoid talking about it and have been slow to provide support, which has consequences (the conversation has reached the highest levels–just this week, the UK government has been debating the issue of protecting the rights of women experiencing menopause). 

Findings show that menopause typically occurs during peak earning years when people have the most opportunity for career growth, so an unsupportive workplace can limit career momentum. Also, “up to 20% of the U.S. workforce is affected by menopause symptoms…Unlike women who leave the workforce because of childcare challenges, women who struggle with menopause symptoms rarely find established company guidelines, support, or a sympathetic ear.” 

Menopause is often framed as only a cisgender women's health issue. However people of all genders may experience menopause and its associated challenges, which impacts organizations’ ability to retain this talent. For example, following the Great Resignation, The HR Director indicates that among people who experience menopause, only one third (32%) feel confident talking about their menopause experience at work, and “over a third (36%) say they have felt discriminated against at work because they are menopausal. All of this is fuelling the decision to move jobs or stop working altogether.”'

Because “men make up the majority of senior leaders and corporate decision-makers, they need to feel more comfortable discussing the topic” and accommodate employees experiencing this life change. And, another source notes, “over 87% of respondents had not spoken to an employer or manager at work about their menopause symptoms, citing reasons that suggest feelings of shame and fear of discrimination or being seen as weak and making excuses.” Coupled with challenges in the workplace, “an alarming number of healthcare providers are uncomfortable treating menopause or unfamiliar with the variety of symptoms that hormonal imbalances can cause.”

An Employee-First Mindset: Providing Solutions Based on Feedback

Our employees are our number one core value at Workday, and our core values guide us in everything we do. When adding new benefits, we refer to employee feedback and employees' needs to inform decision-making. So, listening to feedback, we’re proud to be one of the first companies to provide menopause benefits to our global workforce. Initially launched in 2021, Workday rolled out support benefits, including more comfortable working environments, expanded paid leave, 24/7 virtual care, counseling services, and more.

“If medical providers aren’t taking this seriously, how are people supposed to feel they can bring it up at work?”

Julia Gilmour Regional Sales Director, APJ and ANZ Workday

In October 2022, we introduced Maven Menopause, a specialized program that helps employees better identify and manage symptoms. In the program, employees can connect with a dedicated care advocate and have access to digital appointments with providers, wellness coaches, and provider-moderated groups to connect with others. We’ve also added paid compassionate leave for Workmates experiencing severe symptoms.  

Employees Share Their Stories: Tips and Insights for a More Inclusive, Just Workplace

Menopause directly impacts a significant portion of the workforce now, and will impact others in the future. We connected with Workday employees worldwide who’ve been through menopause to learn about their challenges, how they’ve managed this life shift, and what they wish they’d known sooner. Read on for candid and helpful insights. 

Julia Gilmour is a regional sales director for large enterprise net new ANZ based in Australia:

Menopause can be a taboo subject that even our mothers, sisters, and women friends don't talk about. I wish I’d had conversations, though, so I knew what was happening when it started for me. Conversations dispel the fears people have about it, and if we educate ourselves then the shame and fear of the unknown goes away. 

At a previous employer, I was working on a complex deal. I'd been in perimenopause for a while, but going through a difficult phase. I didn’t feel comfortable asking for support and didn’t want to be marginalized. I had brain fog, hormonal shifts, exceptionally heavy and unpredictable menstruation, and difficulty recalling information as immediately as I'd done in the past. 

When I asked my doctor if I could have my hormones checked because I was experiencing menopause symptoms, he joked, “Ask your husband, because he would know if you’d been in a bad mood.” That was a shocking experience that caused me to realize even more the importance of speaking about menopause with sensitivity and kindness rather than brushing it off with dismissive comments. (And it caused me to get a new general practitioner.) If medical providers aren’t taking this seriously, how are people supposed to feel they can bring it up at work?

The loss of immediate recall was a hard adjustment at work, because that's what I’d done in the past and what was expected of me. I needed additional considerations. Having a manager who’s aware of symptoms and encourages you to bring your laptop or notepad to take notes and look up information is helpful, even in casual “hallway conversation” meetings. I can do my job well, and I'm going through a stage of life that I have no control over. That needs to be recognized. 

I was impressed when Workday launched a menopause program. I thought, this is an organization that speaks to its values and understands its employees. Having someone who you can talk to about the symptoms, including reduced confidence and imposter syndrome, hormone replacement treatment, challenges with heavy cycles, and more, is helpful. 

Marie Cowen is a director of quality assurance for Workday Payroll based in the UK: 

When I was a teenager and started having periods, my mom said, “This is one of the things we don't talk about. We definitely don't discuss it with men.” So half of the world's population doesn’t have an open conversation about something that impacts them? It’s time to change that.

That’s why it’s great we’re having this conversation at Workday. We need to talk about this, so people know the impacts. Menopause happens at different times of life and impacts everyone differently. I went through menopause early, just past age 40. I didn't have the emotional impacts typically associated with it; my hormones actually balanced when I hit menopause. But I had extreme breakthrough bleeding for a full summer, which was my body shutting everything down. I was lucky I could work from home at the time because it would have been difficult to go into the office and be worried about people noticing. 

Another learning: by the time you get to menopause, it’s too late to invest in your bones.  My advice is to talk to your doctor about investing in your bones with calcium-rich food and weight-bearing exercise. Menopause causes drops in estrogen levels and bone density loss. Many women don't realize this until they break a bone, have a scan, and are told they have osteoporosis. 

For much of your career, you think menopause is something in the future. You think about your pension plan before you retire, right? Menopause requires preparation, too, to know what it’ll be like and to do what you can to safeguard your body and make the process easier. 

According to a UK survey from the Fawcett Society of more than 4,000 perimenopausal and menopausal women, 45% have not spoken to their general practitioner about their symptoms.

People shouldn’t be embarrassed and should realize there’s help available. It's OK to take time off, step out of a meeting because the temperature is not OK, or talk to the facilities team about any accommodations needed in the office. For me, I now have a personal air conditioner by my desk; with an open plan office, a temperature that's comfortable for everyone is difficult. And, when I prefer to work from home, there’s flexibility to do that, too. We should be able to speak about the practical things we need to be more comfortable in our environment; it's part of life. 

Barbara Bollard, customer success manager for large enterprise is based in Ireland:

I went back to work after raising my kids. It was exciting, and I was going places. I got awards every year at my job for my achievements. 

Then I moved jobs, and perimenopause started. I was forgetting names and facts and stumbling on my words, which caused intense anxiety. My confidence was in the gutter. I tried talking with my manager, who was a woman and older than me, to get support, but she said, “you're not performing well enough” and swept my symptoms under the rug. To cope, I worked harder than ever, logging long hours and making workarounds. Eventually she praised my performance. But I didn't have a life. 

When I decided to move to Workday, even in the interviews, I felt supported. Early on at Workday, I had to miss work because of a family illness. My manager said, “We hired you because you are you and that comes with everything that is you. Take as much time as you need and come back when you feel able. We will be here to support you in any way we can." That gave me the confidence to open up about my challenges with menopause, too. I shared that some days my brain fog is overwhelming and causes anxiety. 

Even though my doctor said my hormones were fine, and said I was likely just stressed, I knew it was more than that. Talking with colleagues who’d been through menopause helped me recognize the diversity of symptoms. My mom didn’t talk about this and my grandmother didn’t either, but it's valuable for people to share their stories and experiences to help others.

Emily Nikisher, program manager, talent services and rewards, is based in the U.S.:

Even now, when I hear menopause mentioned in a work setting, I cringe because it’s such a personal experience. Going through menopause during COVID-19 was a blessing because I could turn off my camera and manage symptoms more privately, but some symptoms like memory issues and brain fog are hard to hide. 

I remember a particularly embarrassing episode before the pandemic. I was presenting in a conference room and got a massive hot flash. My face turned red, and I started sweating. I was too embarrassed to say anything, so I pretended nothing was happening. It’s helpful now that we’re bringing this conversation more to the forefront at work. Seeing the new menopause benefits featured in our company-wide newsletter recently was encouraging. If the same situation happened today in a meeting, I’d feel more comfortable being open about what’s happening and what I’m experiencing. 

I appreciate the Maven benefits Workday has rolled out. This benefit gives a forum and place where you can be open about what you're going through with people who understand the challenges intimately. It’s nice to know you don’t have to navigate this life change alone. 

Ready to have a brighter work day? Workday is growing, and we’re looking for the best talent to help innovate for good. Learn more about careers at Workday.

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