Menopause at work: a $3.5B wake-up call for employers

The fastest-growing segment of working women in Canada are those aged 45 to 55 — the time when most women reach menopause. For too long both employers and employees have mostly seen the challenges this brings, with unmanaged symptoms of menopause impacting productivity and earning potential.

However, the flip side of challenge is opportunity. Women over 40 offer a vast amount of knowledge, competence, leadership, and mentoring capabilities to their workplaces, and employers willing to break the stigma of menopause at work can enjoy a strategic advantage by retaining — and attracting — a significant cohort of experienced and skilled employees.

This is something the Menopause Foundation of Canada (MFC) explored in their groundbreaking report, Menopause and Work in Canada, written with data and research from Leger Canada and Deloitte Canada. What follows is a summary of the report, which you can also download in its entirety.

Economic impact

It’s estimated that the unmanaged symptoms of menopause cost the economy $3.5 billion per year broken down as follows:

  • $237M in lost productivity
  • 540,000 lost days of work attributed to menopause symptom management
  • $3.3B in lost income due to a reduction in hours and/or pay or leaving the workforce altogether

And these figures only take into account women who work full-time and aren’t self-employed.

At a time when many women should be at their most productive — when they’ve gained considerable career experience, and when parenting responsibilities may have eased — many are reducing their work hours or even leaving the workforce.

Laura, a respondent in the MFC survey who experienced debilitating perimenopausal symptoms and left her high-level banking position, wishes she could have found the support she now has from a menopause specialist before irreversibly altering the course of her career. “Employee turnover is costly. If they can accommodate a pregnancy, why wouldn’t they accommodate menopause?”

Read about: Menopause demystified: key symptoms and how to cope

Laura wants to see more enlightened human resources approaches at work. “We all live longer than we used to, so we have to figure this out.”

With better-informed doctors and businesses, Laura believes things might have been different. “I didn’t have to lose my career and endure a decade of suffering debilitating symptoms.”

The glass ceiling?

In Canada women make up just 20.5 per cent of all board directors, 30.5 per cent of elected federal government representatives, and five per cent of CEOs.

While there isn’t definitive research to prove the correlation, the overlap in the years when women are in line or poised for more senior leadership roles and their menopausal years is clear.

In the MFC survey, 62 per cent of respondents said better workplace support for menopause would contribute to overcoming barriers to promotion.

Driving positive change

There are two main steps that would significantly change many women’s experiences of work in their menopausal years. One is more knowledge about menopause in general, and the second is more workplace accommodation and support.

Knowledge is power

Half of Canadian women say they feel unprepared for menopause. Although 95 per cent of women experience menopause symptoms, less than one quarter of survey respondents believed they were very knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.

In this environment, symptoms can be ignored, misattributed (e.g. to stress or depression), or hidden — the bottom line is if they aren’t acknowledged, they aren’t treated.

Read about: Why menopause tests miss the mark: expert insights

Survey participant, Grace, started experiencing dramatic mood shifts, anxiety, and mental fog, all while gaining 20 pounds in one year with, initially, no good explanation. With the support of her husband, she was able to identify her symptoms as menopausal and to seek help from a menopause clinic.

As helpful as that was, she also appreciates accommodations from her employer which allowed her to focus on work and her health, and without which she believes she would have had to leave her job.

With an estimated one in 10 women leaving the workforce due to unmanaged symptoms of menopause, something needs to change. This brings us to employers’ roles.

Workplace support

When talking about her situation, Grace says, “I don’t want there to be a stigma or be told ‘Don’t talk about it.’ We need to be more human at work now.”

The survey shows she’s onto something because, despite its impact, talking about menopause at work remains taboo, based on the following results:

  • 40 per cent of working women believe there is stigma around the topic
  • Two-thirds (67 per cent) would not feel comfortable speaking to their supervisor about their symptoms
  • 70 per cent would not feel comfortable speaking with HR about their symptoms

This creates a cohort of women who feel alone and try to cope silently, giving their best to their work without asking for the support that could make a difference.

“We hear from women who change jobs, retire early, don’t take a promotion, all because they could not access appropriate care and treatment.”

Three-quarters of the women surveyed would like to see workplaces offer support, and the same number agree that employers would benefit if there was more support at work during  perimenopause and menopause.

Success stories

Some workplaces have caught on and are taking steps to retain and attract valuable, experienced employees who just happen to be women in their menopausal years. These efforts show that small — and inexpensive — efforts can pay off.

The BC Nurses’ Union, recognizing the intense physical and emotional demands of nursing that exacerbate menopause symptoms and often lead to job changes and reduced hours, conducted focus groups to explore the impact of menopause on nurses’ careers. They are now advocating for better working conditions, policies, and systemic change to support menopausal nurses during this critical life stage.

Dalhousie University has become a leader in menopause inclusivity among Canadian academic institutions. In 2022, Dalhousie introduced menopause as part of its wellness activities, launching a monthly support group that now engages over 80 employees in discussions on nutrition, mental health, and hormone therapy. The initiative has expanded to include menopause training for staff and supervisors and the exploration of flexible work schedules and quiet spaces for rest.

Call to action

The accomplished group of doctors who make up the MFC’s Medical Advisory Board believes with knowledge and proactive steps, such as those promoted in the Menopause Works Here campaign, workplaces can change for the better.

“We hear the stories of menopausal women every day. They are accountants, retail workers, nurses, engineers, teachers, housekeepers, CEOs, artists, and everything in between. They are mothers, caregivers, breadwinners, and decision-makers …

“We hear about the symptoms that are impacting their work and their ability to thrive in the prime of their working lives. We hear from women who change jobs, retire early, don’t take a promotion, all because they could not access appropriate care and treatment.”

The Menopause and Work in Canada report seeks to highlight a huge win-win opportunity, with employers achieving increased retention and workplace productivity and women enjoying better health and continued career development through their menopausal years.

About the Menopause Foundation of Canada 

The Menopause Foundation of Canada (MFC) is a national non-profit advocacy organization created to raise awareness of the impact of menopause on women and society. MFC’s mission is to eliminate the social stigma and taboos associated with menopause. The organization is dedicated to closing the menopause knowledge gap, improving access to menopause care and treatment and creating menopause inclusive workplaces. Learn more at