Maintaining good heart health is important for women of all ages. Consider that heart disease:
- Is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.
- In 2019 was responsible for about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
- Kills more women than all forms of cancer combined — including breast cancer.
- Is the number one killer of new mothers, accounting for over a third of all maternal deaths.
However, experts say that good heart health is especially important after menopause. Postmenopausal women can develop atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which occurs when plaque builds up inside the arteries. In addition, women with premature menopause (before 40 years of age) have an elevated risk of ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
Yet despite this serious risk, many of the estimated 1.3 million women in the U.S. who become menopausal each year face a looming barrier to getting the information, support, and care they need: workplace stigma.
“During [menopause], women experience a range of symptoms, including both relatively hidden changes such as depression, sleep issues, and mood shifts, as well as the much more visible symptoms of hot flashes: unpredictable moments of overheating, flushing, and perspiration,” wrote Alicia A. Grandley, a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at The Pennsylvania State University, in an article for Harvard Business Review. “And while the invisible symptoms are no less significant, many people are particularly embarrassed to experience hot flashes at work out of concern that being visibly `outed’ as menopausal might harm their careers.”
Forbes contributor Bianca Barrett interviewed two women who experienced menopause-related stigma at work, and their reflections are disturbing and alarming:
- “Not knowing what was happening to me when I started [experiencing] anxiety and depression and chronic fatigue, I felt abandoned by work and like I was being managed out [of my job].”
- “Anxiety, lack of self-worth, and loss of confidence are tough to deal with, especially as a high achieving woman in a high-profile job — you doubt yourself and imposter syndrome creeps in—even when you've always been at the top of your game.”
Indeed, trying to deal with the physical, emotional, and psychological effects and symptoms of menopause is difficult enough. Yet on top of this, thousands of women each year are terrified that revealing their condition (or having their condition “outed” by a colleague or some other way) will severely harm — and potentially damage beyond repair — a career that they had spent decades building and sacrificing for. Separate surveys have found that:
- 25 percent of postmenopausal women feel that the stigma associated with menopause has negatively impacted their career development.
- 46 percent of the nearly 5,400 menopausal and postmenopausal women disclosed their menopause status at work.
- 13 percent of 4,440 women said they experienced adverse work outcomes related to menopause symptoms.
What’s more, failing to provide postmenopausal women in the workforce a safe space to disclose their status and situation — and consequently neglecting to provide quality information and relevant support through benefits and other resources — has an enormous financial toll. A newly-published Mayo Clinic study estimates that a whopping $1.8 billion in lost work time per year can be attributed to menopause-related symptoms, and the number surges to $26.6 billion annually when medical expenses are added.
"The takeaway for employers is that there is a critical need to address this issue for women in the workplace…employers need to create and implement workplace strategies and policies to help women navigate this universal life transition," says lead author Stephanie Faubion, M.D., director of Mayo Clinic Women’s Health.
And so, what are some of the strategies and policies that employers should focus on so they can be part of the solution — instead of unintentionally, yet unavoidably, worsening the problem for current and future women in their workplace?
Becks Armstrong, the founder of an app that enables menopausal women to track symptoms as well as receive mental and emotional support, points out that gestures such as providing access to fans, creating cooler working areas, and making quiet workspaces available can have a significant positive impact. She also recommends having someone in HR who is educated on menopausal symptoms, and who can provide advocacy at the leadership level, as well as coaching and support. Noted Armstrong: “There can be shame and embarrassment associated with menopause for women, and there can be ignorance or embarrassment when things are mentioned. It’s important for companies to have training to understand what to look for and sensitive ways to accommodate some symptoms.”
It can also be enormously helpful — though admittedly difficult — for women leaders who are going through menopause to openly talk about their symptoms and experiences; not just for their own benefit, but to help allay some of the anxieties their colleagues are grappling with.
“If you are a leader going through menopause, try to normalize your challenges, so that other women can feel empowered to speak in the future,” suggested Jeneva Patterson, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership in Brussels, Belgium, in an article for Harvard Business Review. “Just saying something like, `I’m going through menopause, and I keep forgetting things!’ shows others this is something that is okay to talk about. Dialogue costs nothing, but reaps big rewards.”
In addition, Benefit Directors can offer heart health-focused digital therapeutics, which allow employees to easily check and track their blood pressure levels at home using an app on their smartphone (utilizing a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure monitor and cuff). These tools can also include personalized lifestyle coaching that encourages employees to make heart-healthy choices, such as eating more nutritious meals, getting more quality sleep, walking, and exercising. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease, and after menopause, the prevalence of hypertension in women is higher than it is in men.
For far too long, menopause has held — and unfortunately in many ways continues to hold — very negative connotations. This must change. “A woman's value should not be defined by the end of her fertility,” states an op-ed in the medical journal The Lancet. “On the contrary, this stage of life is an opportunity, a new beginning that can be lived richly, productively, fully, and in good overall health if society invests in women to help them prepare, cope, and thrive to reach their full potential in mid-life and beyond.”
Employers have a pivotal role to play in changing the paradigm by what they say, and especially what they do. Measures such as creating a more comfortable work environment, empowering an advocate who will facilitate change as well as provide care and coaching, and offering heart health-focused digital therapeutics can go a long way towards ending the stigma of menopause in the workplace, and establishing a new level of strength and success!
Hello Heart is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.
1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1639225/000119312519185159/d731249ds1.htm. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). https://validationinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Hello_Heart-Savings-2021- Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)