GenX is often referred to as the forgotten generation, perennially overlooked due to the precociousness of Boomers and Millennials who sandwich them. While this generation didn’t seem to mind going unnoticed in the past, it is imperative we finally start paying attention, especially to GenX women. Why? Now 43 to 58 years of age, GenX women are stepping into leadership positions deserted by their retiring predecessors. However, if things continue to trend in the current direction, they may not be in these roles long because this is also the age women enter menopause.
Currently, corporate policies protecting and supporting women experiencing menopause are few and far between despite its widely reported impact on mental health and performance in a business setting. With menopause comes brain fog, sleep issues, hot flashes, anxiety and countless other physical, mental and emotional symptoms that can sideline a person, especially someone who carries a tremendous amount of responsibility in both the workplace and home. Women in leadership positions are also leaving companies at the highest rates ever, with menopause being a significant contributing factor. It’s about time businesses evaluate how they’re showing up for these essential players before they start feeling it in their bottom line.
Aside from demonstrating compassion for the 1.3 million women who enter menopause every year, menopause benefits can help minimize the economic impact of productivity losses. Since financial incentives tend to speed up organizational change, let’s do the math.
This doesn’t address reduced work hours, employment loss or early retirement which would place an added burden on both the person and the business. Here’s something further to ponder. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women over 45 years old made up 43.8% of the workforce in 2016. A third of menopausal women are considering moving to part-time employment. Nearly a quarter are considering leaving the workforce entirely. If these women, who are at the peak of their career, were to exit the workforce there would be significant financial implications for all. Something’s got to give.
Baby or Bust
Fertility and family-oriented benefits are touted by businesses across the nation to entice top female talent to join their ranks. Yet they lack the one benefit that would increase career longevity for the talent they initially invested in. Bank of America recent survey of 2,000 women in the workforce discovered 64% wanted menopause-specific benefits, but only 14% believed their employer recognized the need for them. More than half also felt that their symptoms negatively impacted their work life. It begs the question, why aren’t more women demanding the shift?
Unfortunately, in our youth obsessed culture women are fearful of being perceived as old and useless once they’re past their child bearing years. In fact, 60% of Bank of America survey respondents said that menopause comes with a stigma and are uncomfortable talking about their symptoms at work. For those who dare to share their experience, they risk creating a hostile work environment. Just look at the recent menopause discrimination lawsuit filed by a woman in the UK. After being transparent with her employer about her brain fog and concentration issues that were affecting her stellar track record, they demoted her, denied her pay raises and put her on a performance improvement plan. She ultimately quit, sued for discrimination and finally received validation when the judge ruled in her favor, hopefully setting a new tone for how menopausal women are treated.
Minimal Effort, Maximum Reward
Menopause-specific benefits wouldn’t be asking much of organizations and would cost them far less than it would to replace the operational knowledge of those who quit. When it comes to healthcare, women want access to menopause health professionals who truly understand their health issues, considering that only 7% of new family practitioners and gynecologists feel equipped to handle menopause. A reasonable request, right? Insurance plans rarely, if ever, cover hormone replacement therapy which is proven to reverse menopause’s debilitating effects, so why not cover this minimal expense? We’ve also already moved towards a more flexible work environment due to the pandemic and accommodating the needs of parents juggling personal and professional duties. It wouldn’t take much for employers to acknowledge that flex time also applies to menopausal conditions, too.
What Will It Take?
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention advocates for supporting and protecting the health and safety of aging workers because it is vital to avoiding labor shortages and a loss of business acumen that only comes with years of experience. They project that younger and middle-aged groups participating in the labor force will likely decline, in turn, creating a greater need for older workers (GenX) to stay engaged, active participants.
Knowing this, how long will it be before the U.S. catches up with other countries like the U.K. where one-in-four U.K. corporations has a menopause policy? Much smaller nations like Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, France and Australia all offer comprehensive menopause benefits either through government programs or through employer-provided health insurance. Aren’t the financial implications enough for risk averse corporations to take proactive measures? Or will it take a #MeToo type movement or an influx of lawsuits to finally move the needle?
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