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How to Talk to Your Boss About Menopause

Employers offer job flexibility and other support if you know how to ask

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Elen Winata

Each year more than 2 million women in the United States reach menopause.

Though 1 in 3 female workers going through menopause have missed work in the past 12 months due to menopause symptoms, according to new research from AARP, only 22 percent of employers offer menopause-specific benefits. The most common reasons companies don’t provide accommodations: Employees have not asked for them.  

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Some advocates for women’s health care say that needs to change. They say women should not suffer silently at work, and companies should provide more support. “Women facing challenging menopause symptoms affecting productivity should consider open communication with their managers,” says Lauren Winans, founder and chief executive of Next Level Benefits, a human resources consulting firm based in Pittsburgh. 

If menopause symptoms are hindering your productivity, here’s what you need to know.

Should you tell your boss you’re in menopause?

When it comes to illnesses and other medical conditions, employers understand that they have certain obligations to provide resources and accommodations that employees may need, says Tracy M. Billows, a partner and labor and employment lawyer with global practice Seyfarth Shaw.

However, menopause is not considered an illness or disability, Billows says. “What employers are going to have to navigate is understanding that even if something doesn’t rise to the level of a serious health condition as defined by the Family and Medical Leave Act, there still may be an expectation for some sort of accommodation or consideration for what someone’s going through.”

Though menopause is not a disorder or ailment, for many women it may feel like one. According to the AARP study, hot flashes, mood swings and fatigue are among the most common symptoms, while difficulty concentrating, headaches and forgetfulness can also affect a woman’s quality of life.

For many women, menopause is a taboo subject of discussion, particularly in the workplace. Yet some career experts see that changing as workplaces focus more on the well-being of their employees.  

Jen Mahone Rightler,  a human resources strategist and founder of Elements2Inclusion, a boutique diversity and inclusion firm in Flower Mound, Texas, recently raised the topic at a leadership event of whether corporate leaders would like open conversations and training around menopause. “Almost every hand was raised to say that they would love to discuss it,” she says, including the 25 to 30 percent of attendees who were men. Many of them had questions themselves, she says, “because they were supporting a spouse or partner who was either going through menopause or has been through a menopausal stage.”

For Mahone Rightler, workplace supports around menopause aren’t just a topic reserved for her human resources business. These issues are a subject she had personal experience with when she began experiencing signs of menopause a few years ago. “You don’t know how your body is going to respond — the onset of never-ending sweating, where you literally look like you just ran a marathon while sitting at your desk, the crying for no reason, the fatigue and feeling as if you were hit by a truck,” she says. “I was miserable.”

Mahone Rightler eventually told her manager about her struggles. “I found that sharing with my leader without going into grave detail was the best solution because I knew my productivity was being impacted, and honestly the sweats didn’t leave me much choice,” she says.

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Some employers offer support to workers with menopause

Employers can offer support to workers with menopause in many ways. Among the solutions you might ask for are flexible work arrangements, the opportunity to work near a window or fan, the ability to take more frequent breaks throughout the day, and the ability to modify your dress code so that you are more comfortable.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. “There is no federal law that requires employers to accommodate menopausal symptoms,” Winans says.

Nevertheless, some companies are being proactive about starting a conversation with employees about menopause. For example, in celebration of World Menopause Day last October, publishing company Wiley invited a menopause speaker to share information and discuss the impact of perimenopause and menopause on women in the workplace.

“This included tips on how to broach conversations on the topic as well as how to help team members thrive and grow in their careers, even while managing symptoms,” says Danielle McMahan, chief people officer at Wiley. “Approximately 100 colleagues joined the conversation live or watched the replay of this important conversation. We consider this a great step forward to demystify the topic.”

One way women can raise awareness is by organizing such a conversation or presentation through an employee resource group for women or a similar networking group.

McMahan notes that Wiley also has a partnership with Peppy, a digital health care platform that offers workers expert advice and support for different conditions including menopause.

Other companies are considering training programs that deal with the topic, says Maria Rossi, a Seyfarth Shaw associate who specializes in benefits law. Such programs are “not just for women, but for men and managers because it is a recognized area of impact and it impacts so many other people besides the targeted audience.”

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How to negotiate job flexibility for menopause

Broaching the subject of menopause with a manager involves choosing an appropriate time and framing it as a health-related discussion, emphasizing the impact on your ability to work productively, Winans says. Consider the following tips:

Come to the conversation prepared. Create a list of symptoms that have been affecting your performance at work and be ready to share what you have been doing to manage them, Winans says.

Get your doctor involved. When Mahone Rightler talked to her manager about menopause, “I asked my physician to help me explain what I was dealing with,” she says. By describing it from the lens of her physician, she was better able to keep her explanation simple and focused on the symptoms.

Loop in HR. Ask your human resources representative to take part in the discussion, Winans suggests. Not only can the HR presence help to ease fears of being given less meaningful work or being overlooked for promotions because of your challenges with menopause, but they can guide your manager and support you in the quest for workplace solutions that are effective.

Know what you want. Don’t expect your manager to come up with a solution for you on their own. Be prepared to suggest practical ways that your employer could be supportive, Winans says, whether it’s by occasionally letting you work remotely or giving you access to a cooling fan.

Be ready to counter. As with any exercise in negotiation, come to the conversation with a plan to counter any hesitancies your employer might have to provide the accommodations you want, Mahone Rightler says. For example, if you ask for flexibility for remote work, be able to explain how you will be able to fulfill work obligations from home.

Keep documentation. After each meeting, reiterate what you agreed to via an email, Mahone Rightler says. That way “you have documentation that you are still meeting and/or exceeding expectations.”

As more women speak up about their challenges with menopause, employers might be more likely to provide solutions if they don’t want to lose talented employees.

“Women ought to feel comfortable approaching their managers on tough topics, and that includes those that may be impacting their health and well-being,” McMahan says.

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