Symptoms, Stigmas, and Solutions: Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause is an uncomfortable topic for many, particularly in the workplace. In a society that disproportionately condemns signs of aging in women, it can be difficult to acknowledge the onset of menopause to oneself, let alone supervisors or coworkers. Moreover, when a woman’s merits as an employee are directly linked to her experience and seniority, this pressure to maintain her youth seemingly contradicts the requirements she needs to continue advancing in her career. In this month’s episode of Worksights, Laura Noble and guest, Dr. Tracy McCubbin, discuss the symptoms of, and stigmas against, women who are undergoing menopause in the workplace.

Dr. Tracy McCubbin aids patients across the United States for a variety of health concerns, including hormone balancing, digestive disorders, fertility, autoimmune conditions, and healthy aging, at her private practice, Radiance Functional Medicine, located in Denver, Colorado.

Symptoms of Menopause

Menopause often occurs when a woman is reaching the height of her career. She may be stepping into a leadership role, or is considered a subject matter expert in her field, when she suddenly faces symptoms such as insomnia, brain fog, and disrupted temperature regulation. These menopausal symptoms can often go misdiagnosed or untreated, leaving her to either suffer through or forego her current employment.

Everyone experiences a decrease in hormone levels as they age; however, while men experience a linear depletion in hormones, women’s hormones fluctuate as they decrease over the course of menopause. Common symptoms of menopause can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Disrupted temperature regulation, or “hot flashes”
  • Inconsistent periods
  • Mood changes
  • Brain fog or memory issues

Unlike other medical issues, menopause in the workplace is often overlooked, dismissed, or even openly mocked. Mood swings and hot flashes have become something to joke about, even though they are of no less significance than symptoms of other medical issues that are deemed protected disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Stigmas Against Age, Gender, and Disabilities

Unwillingness to discuss menopause in the workplace is the result of multiple inherit biases. By requesting accommodations for menopausal symptoms, a woman is not only opening herself up to scrutiny under gender bias, but also age and disability discrimination. As Laura states in Worksights, requesting accommodations for menopausal symptoms can feel as though you are placing a target on your back, flagging yourself as a potential victim of gender, age, and disability discrimination. Even among women, the symptoms of menopause can vary greatly. A coworker who did not struggle to the same degree can downplay the effects of hormone imbalance and may express a lack of empathy towards another woman whose experience differs from her own.

Potential Workplace Solutions

Although menopause can be considered a temporary medical disability, much like pregnancy, the ADA does not currently classify menopause as a disability that warrants accommodations. In order to make this happen, employers and employees alike must create a work environment where the discussion of menopause is welcome and taken seriously.

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