Menopause occurs when a woman has not had her period for a year and cannot conceive. Menopause symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep loss, mood changes, weariness, bone and joint pain, headaches, disorientation, and depression. They usually begin between 45 and 55 but can begin sooner in certain circumstances, leading to distractibility, decreased concentration, and even irrational behaviour. These circumstances can be embarrassing for family, friends and co-workers.

According to gynaecologist Dr Shantaya Mukherjee, menopause includes three phases: Pre-menopause lasts one year after the last period and five years before menopause. The next phase, menopause, begins after a year without a period, and the final stage, post-menopause, lasts the rest of a woman’s life after her last period. In these three phases, a woman spends more than half her life.

Despite its length, intensity, and obstacles, menopause is rarely mentioned. Women’s health is a neglected subject; it only appears to be publicly discussed during pregnancy and childbirth. By 2025, more than one billion women, or 12 per cent of the world’s population, will be in menopause, but most women dismiss their symptoms and health problems as trivial.

Menopause is one of “those things” in society that women have traditionally been expected to handle silently. Women avoid talking about it because of the stigma associated with menopause, ageism and concomitant symptoms, which can lead to prejudice and being labelled as elderly. Women in menopause are represented as emotional, “hormonal”, and irritable. Women do not desire these identities, particularly at work.

Menopause among working women has mainly remained a barely mentioned experience in workplaces where inclusive talks on more visible and overt aspects of women’s health have begun. Everyone avoids the subject. The lack of facts and experience makes it difficult to know what to say, exacerbating the situation.

Why bring it up at work?

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), three-fifths of menopausal women had unfavourable work consequences. According to a 2017 UK government research, many people are unwilling to disclose symptoms to male or younger management. Menopause, unlike pregnancy, is not a common HR policy topic.

We present five compelling reasons for workplaces to start discussing and acting to help women during menopause.

Demographics: Pre-menopause is becoming more common in women aged 35-40 due to stress and lifestyle changes. This causes symptoms to last longer (7-10 years). They are at a crossroads in their careers as they take on leadership roles. Women take on leadership responsibilities as their careers and menopause progress. Throughout this stage of life, people, particularly women, balance various responsibilities. Employers are usually silent on this potentially costly issue, making it more critical that businesses address it.

The economic case: It is costly to lose a senior female supervisor. If she is the organisation’s only female representative at that level, replacing her may take a long time and a lot of money. Women at this level possess experience and information that, if lost, can be costly to organisations.

Menopause is also a diversity concern for companies. Employers should provide assistance to trans and non-binary employees to be inclusive. Menopause in such employees can be caused by hormonal changes (often with little support). Diversity will suffer if a company’s talent pipeline only has a few women and one or two resign due to menopause.

The legal case: In India, we haven’t seen any legal implications or female employees suing their employers for being inconsiderate of their specific demands during this phase. Still, the day may not be far with precedent in other nations like the UK.

What can organisations do?

Menopause support must be ongoing and provided daily. Organisations can assist in the following ways:

Creating awareness and support for women: Some women may not know that their symptoms are caused by menopause or that counselling and therapy can assist reduce discomfort. Organisations can also partner with FemTech ( female technology) firms that use technologies to support women’s health. This industry is developing creative ways to help menopausal women.

Sensitising employees and managers: Menopause should be de-stigmatised, and the workforce should be aware of its symptoms. Men and women in organisations can help women feel safe reporting menopausal symptoms and health by dispelling myths and fostering understanding. More significantly, firms must ensure that managers obtain the training and information they need to build and preserve team and organisational culture. Managers need the insight to influence team change.

Reasonable workplace adjustments: To accommodate this phase of female employees, workplaces must change their office layouts. Air-conditioning, good ventilation, hygienic amenities, and comfortable restrooms may benefit women enduring hot flushes, weariness, confusion, and burnout during menopause.

Policy or guidelines or something else?: Along with developing menopause regulations and support systems, it’s important to assure women suffering menopause symptoms won’t encounter prejudice and will obtain private counselling and support. Women may feel more at ease knowing they can safely voice their concerns. Women in senior positions who normalise menopause can start a transition cycle.

Chawla is Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean, and Drave is Assistant Professor and Area Chair, Jindal Business School, OP Jindal Global University, Haryana. Views are personal