A staggering 70 per cent of Canadian women surveyed say they would not feel comfortable speaking with human resources about their menopause symptoms, according to a new report from the Menopause Foundation of Canada, sponsored by Sun Life Financial.

“Unmanaged symptoms of menopause cost the Canadian economy an estimated $3.5-billion per year, with working women bearing the brunt of the costs,” say the authors of the report entitled Menopause and Work in Canada.

The economic impact analysis, conducted by Deloitte Canada, shows that menopause costs employers $237-million annually in lost productivity, and costs women $3.3-billion in lost income. They further estimate that approximately 540,000 lost days of work each year can be attributed to menopause symptom management. The economic costs, they say, are also likely underestimated, as the data used was based on information provided by women who were working full time.

One quarter of five million of Canada’s workers are women over age 40. Two million are between 45 and 55 years of age. They add that the cohort is the fastest growing segment of working women – the growth in the number of working women falling into this age bracket is expected to jump 27 per cent by 2040.

“Women are too often blindsided by menopause in their prime working years, which leads to a loss of invaluable experience, skills and leadership in the workplace. While this hurts employers and the economy overall, our research reveals that women bear the brunt of the impact, losing income during the time when they should be earning the most,” says Janet Ko, president and co-founder of the foundation. The report also goes on to propose that menopause could be one missing link explaining why more women aren’t breaking through glass ceilings. (Only 20 per cent of board directors are women, 30 per cent of elected federal government representatives are women and just five per cent of CEOs are women, according to the report.) “There is a powerful opportunity for employers in Canada to unleash the full potential of this sizable workforce demographic by better supporting them through what is a universal experience.” 

The foundation’s medical advisory board also issued a statement in the report pointing out that women change jobs, retire early and don’t take promotions, simply because they can’t access appropriate treatment. “As clinicians, we call upon employers to be more knowledgeable and proactive in providing environments that support and retain women in their menopausal years.” 

The report includes a number of case studies documenting misinformation – even from doctors – and stories about women at the peak of their earning potential who are forced to take pay cuts or give up their careers altogether. “Employee turnover is costly. If they can accommodate pregnancy, why wouldn’t they accommodate menopause?” asks one survey respondent named Laura. “We all live longer than we used to, so we have to figure this out.” 

Three quarters of the women surveyed for the report say they would like to see their workplaces offer supports. “The most commonly recommended are simple,” they write. These include medical insurance covering treatments and therapies, flex-work policies which take menopause into consideration, education and awareness for managers and for employees.

It's estimated that one in 10 women will leave the workforce due to unmanaged menopause symptoms.