Since menopause often hits women at the peak of their careers and can have an impact on their workplace productivity, employers must re-evaluate their benefits plans and workplace policies to better support women through the transition.

While the common age range for menopause is between 45 and 55, it can also happen before age 40, according to Jennifer Zelovitzky, clinical director of women’s health and vitality at Medcan, during Benefits Canada‘s 2023 Healthy Outcomes Conference in October.

This age range encompasses 55 per cent of Canadian working women, is often a time when women hit their peak earning years and reach leadership positions and can also coincide with caregiving responsibilities.“This is impacting women at a very, very busy and productive time in their life.”

Read: Back to basics on menopause support

Menopause is the point in time at which someone who menstruates has gone a full year without their period. Perimenopause is the time leading up to the final menstrual period and one year after it. During perimenopause, hormones fluctuate significantly, which create the symptoms many associate with menopause.

According to a study in the Journal of the North American Menopause Society, more than 70 per cent of perimenopausal or menopausal women experienced disrupted sleep due to hot flashes or night sweats. Of this group, 83 per cent said sleep disruption was harming their productivity at work and 20 per cent said they were thinking of quitting their jobs. In addition, one in 10 women will leave the workforce due to the impact of their symptoms.

Another study, which evaluated the incremental direct and indirect costs of untreated hot flashes and night sweats on Fortune 500 companies, found employees who didn’t receive care had 1.5 million more outpatient health-care visits than those who were treated, with the incremental direct total cost of untreated symptoms reaching roughly US$340 million over a 12-year period between 1999 and 2011.

Despite menopause being a universal experience for people who menstruate, a “shocking” amount of people are totally unprepared, something that’s driving these adverse outcomes, said Zelovitsky. She noted studies have found physicians rarely raise the issue of menopause proactively with their patients and people who ask about it tend not to receive helpful information. Indeed, doctors are often not taught about menopause and research into women’s health broadly is also lacking, with only five per cent of Canada’s total health-care research spending going towards it.

Read: Dalhousie University providing menopause-inclusive workplace through support group, manager training

That’s where employers can step in, she said, noting there are plenty of treatments for menopause symptoms that can be incorporated into a benefits plan, including pelvic floor physiotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy for managing the related mental-health impacts. Employers can also add coverage for menopause hormone treatment, which is more than 90 per cent effective in managing and reducing hot flashes and other symptoms, to their drug plans or allow for coverage through a health-care spending account.

Read more coverage of the 2023 Healthy Outcomes Conference.