Dr. Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM is an acclaimed TEDx presenter and national keynote speaker in integrative and preventive medicine and the Chief Medical Officer at Embr Labs. A three-time New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Peeke is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and was Chief Medical Correspondent for Discovery Health television
Written by Dr. Pamela Peeke
You’re chairing a board meeting and the pressure’s on. You feel energized, ready to power through and lead your team with confidence and decisiveness. And then it hits — a searing hot flash, tearing through your midlife body like a bolt of lightning. Soon beads of sweat appear. Maintaining your composure, you call for a break in the meeting, gracefully exit, then race to the restroom to towel off and regroup, all the while praying you can get through the meeting without another episode.
Welcome to workplace menopause.
And you’ve got company.
Close to 30 million women between the ages of 45 and 64, or 20% of the USA workforce, are in menopause. Another 6,000 women reach menopause every day, or roughly two million per year. And 80% of these women are experiencing menopausal symptoms, with hot flashes being the most frequent and serious complaint.
This translates to almost a quarter of the workforce toiling away, sleep deprived from a nighttime of sleep-crushing hot flashes, foggy brain, loss of energy, anxiety attacks, mood swings, headaches, and of course, dripping sweat. Lest you think otherwise, menopause is not a one-day wonder. A woman can begin her menopausal hormonal transition as early as her late thirties. This continues throughout her 40s, into her 50s when menopause typically occurs (age 51-52), and into the post-menopausal period which can last another seven to 10 years. In other words, a woman’s menopausal journey can span up to 20 years.
That’s a long time to suffer in silence.
Approximately 50 percent of women who felt the need to take time off from work due to menopausal symptoms disclosed the real reason for their absence.
Why is no one talking about this? We talk about pregnancy and breast cancer, but menopause is taboo. Why? In a word, fear.
Women are afraid of how others, both men and women, will perceive them. Ageism rears its greying head. Then sexism. Since most workplaces are designed by men for men, there is no built-in cultural accommodation for hot flashes. Sharing that you’re having menopausal symptoms resulting in a memory lapse is workplace suicide. Therefore, women stay silent for fear that they’ll be perceived as unstable, weepy, and unreliable, leading to significantly negative career consequences.
We’re going to end this suffering in silence once and for all.
First, let’s be clear. Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life journey. There is nothing pathological or wrong with a woman coursing through these years. With social and wellness support systems that could be provided within the workplace domain, menopausal women could feel less ostracized and stigmatized. Second, management should be educated, becoming more sensitive to menopausal issues ranging from sleep deprivation problem to control of the thermostat This creates a more welcoming workplace ecosystem.
Next, add wellness speakers, activities, and product offerings that are menopause-centric. Women’s health experts, yoga and meditation trainings, access to new hot flash management technologies like the Embr Wave 2, and more flexibility in hours and sick days are critical elements that can make a meaningful difference.
Let’s open the discussion, say the “M” word out loud, shift the menopause narrative, stop the suffering in silence, and pave the way to thriving, not just surviving, in the workplace.