Menopause in the workplace is a rising concern. Quartz at Work conducted a Q&A with two doctors to understand how employers can close the gap in menopause care, how employees should talk to their leader, and how addressing menopause can fight age-related bias.
For the Q&A, we’re joined by Dr. Gilberg-Lenz, author of Menopause Bootcamp and co-founder of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Green Committee, and Dr. Mary Claire Haver, board-certified OB/GYN, a Certified Culinary Medicine Specialist, and author of the hormone hit The Galveston Diet.
How might women address menopause with their leaders and coworkers?
Dr. Haver: Should a woman choose to share their menopause experience with their leader, they should spend adequate time preparing for the conversation by:
- Keeping a symptom diary: Explaining how their symptoms affect their performance as clearly and concisely as possible. For instance, if they’re experiencing hot flashes, perhaps they can ask permission to have a fan at their desk or to relocate to an area near an air conditioning vent or window that can be opened.
- Practicing to increase confidence: Whether they write out main bullets, record themselves talking about it, or practice with a friend, rehearsing what they want to say and how they want to say it increases confidence and the likelihood of change.
Talking openly about your journey with menopause normalizes it as a natural process that all women will eventually go through. It also helps create a culture of trust, paving the way for those coming behind them.
Are there specific ways employers can support women in menopause?
Dr. Gilberg-Lenz: Employers can take three actions to support employees impacted by menopause:
- Implement flexible work schedules and spaces. If you had a night of hot flashes, communicate that to your employer. They should be understanding that you need to work from home that day, which is less rigid and more compassionate. This will allow for more productivity and empowerment among employees.
- Create a cool down/nap room. I recommend the temperature is 62 degrees. All employees can schedule time in that room for a 15-20 minute rest break.
- Honor everyone. We don’t have to segregate our menopausal patients. Include all employees in self-care routines!
- Talk about menopause like it’s no big deal. When was the last time anyone outside of menopause even brought it up? A company can invite a member of the menopause community to discuss their experiences or share their expertise.
- Acknowledge Menopause Awareness Month. It would be great if people had menopause parties like they have birthday parties. Inject a sense of humor and joy into it. Don’t you want to create an environment where employees feel their humanity is valued?
What habits do you recommend for women in menopause?
Dr. Haver: We recommend that women take a good look at their nutrition, exercise, and hydration to ensure they manage inflammation. We recommend limiting/avoiding foods that cause inflammation, such as refined and processed carbohydrates, added sugars, fried foods, nitrates and nitrites, and foods containing artificial colors and flavors.
Increasing the consumption of foods that fight inflammation, such as whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats, can limit and reduce overall inflammation, decreasing the severity of menopausal symptoms and the risk of disease. For example, if the employer provides snacks at work, they can request options like nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables rather than processed pre-packaged snacks.
Exercise is an essential part of caring for yourself in menopause. Including cardiovascular and resistance training is critical to maintain muscle mass and to preserve bone health. To fuel yourself, we recommend at least 64 oz of water per day, consuming 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily, and limiting added sugars to under 25 grams daily. This line-up is a great starting point for decreasing symptoms of menopause while improving overall health.
Age-related bias may also be at play here. What can companies do to reinforce the value of more senior employees?
Dr. Gilberg-Lenz: Celebrate the wisdom of longtime employees. Create a mentorship program to show aging employees their value. Honor the intergenerational sharing of knowledge. Then everyone does a better job because we all have something to contribute. When we decouple aging from something negative (decrepitude), we can make it more sacred.