Is your business losing money by not caring for midlife women?

Posted on May 07, 2024

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Source: Crane's Cleveland Business

By Dr. Alexa Fiffick

It is well known that midlife women encounter significant health changes, particularly those associated with the menopause transition. But did you know that not having policies to support those health changes may be hurting your company's profits and costing American businesses billions?

In a 2023 study by the Mayo Clinic, 13.4% of women reported one or more adverse workplace outcomes – such as absenteeism or reduced productivity – due to symptoms associated with menopause and other midlife conditions. Additionally, almost 11% reported missing work within the prior year due to these symptoms, with a median loss of three work days.

The risk of adverse work outcomes increased by up to 15.6 times for women with the highest symptom burden, leading to an estimated loss of $1.8 billion per year in the U.S. in lost work days alone.

If you didn’t think you needed to change your policies before, that $1.8 billion might make you reconsider.

There are many other costs as well. For example, a retrospective cohort study of more than 500,000 women (published in 2015) found that women with untreated menopause-related symptoms had 82% higher healthcare resource utilization. These women also had a 57% increase in indirect work productivity loss.

The Mayo Clinic study estimated that $24.8 billion per year is lost due to medical expenditures for these midlife female employees. That means that upwards of $26 billion is lost in the U.S. every year when you combine the lost work days with the money spent on health care.

Losing $26 billion per year simply because of the failure to address the effects of the health issues in this subpopulation? Talk about a costly oversight.

As shocking as these numbers are, the team that performed the Mayo Clinic study suspects their estimate is quite conservative, as it left out multiple other factors. This is suspected because several previous studies (including one in 2020) note that with increasing severity of symptoms, there is an increase in female workers reducing work hours, changing jobs, declining promotions and exiting employment completely, either due to job loss or early retirement.

Moreover, a U.K. study on 3,000 women found that women reporting one disruptive menopausal symptom by age 50 had a 43% increased likelihood of leaving their jobs by age 55. These numbers are staggering, considering women in midlife currently constitute roughly 30% of the total U.S. workforce, and that this cohort is the largest growing cohort in the workforce.

So what can companies do to stop the financial bleeding? While there is currently a dearth of government intervention in changing laws and policies, corporations large and small can lead the charge.

One suggestion is to consider implementing formal workplace policies akin to those for sick and parental leave. Some companies have also added employee benefits, such as coverage to access certified midlife women’s health specialists and hormonal/nonhormonal therapies, regardless of their inclusion in the company’s health insurance plan.

Other recommendations include training HR and supervisors to understand these health changes and how they affect their workers, allowing for flexibility in remote/hybrid work schedules, and allowing female workers to have control over their work environment (i.e., temperature).

These changes are likely not only crucial for employee satisfaction, but for employee retention, and the success of the companies they work for.  Next time you are looking at profit margins, it might be time to consider how much ignoring the issues facing midlife women is costing, and make a change.