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Feb 5, 2024
Fertility, pregnancy, and menopause: Women need health benefits for all stages of life

A transformative shift in the makeup of the U.S. workforce has been underway for decades, and today, women represent nearly 50% of all workers. Further, the workforce participation rate for women aged 25-54 is higher than for any other age group. Women are also staying in the workforce longer, and the workforce participation rate for those 55 and older continues to increase.

As these workforce dynamics take hold, employers face a growing demand to design health and well-being benefit programs that consider the unique health needs of women in all life stages. For example, federal law requires virtually all health plans to cover pregnancy, childbirth, and newborn care, but few plans provide specific benefits for women experiencing menopausal symptoms. Forward-thinking employers are making changes now to tailor benefits to meet women’s needs, understanding that a diverse, healthy workforce is essential to drive business and economic growth.

The employer imperative

Women prioritize health benefits when choosing employers. In a 2023 survey of 17,000 people with employer-sponsored benefits, 72% said women’s health is extremely or very important. About 71% of working women said they would leave their jobs for better benefits.

Employers are revisiting their women’s health benefits strategies, including how they address menopause. A recent survey conducted by Evernorth Health Services shows that the interest in comprehensive women's health benefits solutions is high (see chart below). Additionally, 43% of employers agreed that a comprehensive women’s health benefit needs to include menopause. Another survey of employers, which was conducted by the National Health Purchasers Coalition, showed that the most common women’s health benefits today are mental health support, parental leave, and maternity support, and the highest considerations for upcoming benefits are menopause support and caregiving assistance.

Source: Evernorth Health Services

Research shows that menopause benefits are important to women. Nearly two-thirds of women aged 40–65 want menopause benefits such as access to menopause health professionals or flexible work arrangements, but less than 5% of employers offer specific benefits targeted to this stage of life. In a 2023 Deloitte survey, more than half of employed women (52%) said employers should offer paid leave for menopause symptoms.

In addition, menopause often is concurrent with career milestones or life events, such as the ascension to leadership roles, the need to care for aging parents, adjusting to empty-nest syndrome, or even active parenthood for women who started their families later in life.

Offering comprehensive health benefits like those for menopause can help women in the workplace and address other barriers to care they may face ‒ including delaying or missing their own care because they prioritize family members.

Managing life at home and at work, as well as the physical and mental health challenges that occur during menopause, can affect a woman’s ability to live life with health, strength, and energy. The second annual Vitality in America study by The Cigna Group revealed women aged 35-54 have lower average vitality than older women and men 35-54. Lower vitality is associated with lower work engagement, productivity, performance, and more.

How menopause affects women and their employers

Menopause is a natural biological process that typically begins when a woman is in her mid-40s to mid-50s. The first stage is perimenopause, which spans an average of about seven years and ends 12 months after her last menstrual period. During that time, more than 80% of women experience symptoms, which can include hot flashes, sleep disruptions, mood changes, brain fog, memory lapses, headaches, and more.

These symptoms can impact individual women differently and to different degrees depending on a number of reasons, including race. Black and Hispanic women may start perimenopause earlier, have more severe symptoms, and experience symptoms longer than white or Asian women. In a Korn Ferry study, 47% of menopausal and post-menopausal women said their symptoms had disrupted their work performance, and 41% reported a negative impact on their career.

For employers, losses related to missed work due to menopause symptoms account for $1.8 million annually. When medical expenses are factored in, the cost balloons to a staggering $26.6 billion annually.

Despite ubiquity and impact, menopause often is considered an off-limits topic, especially in a professional environment where symptoms can be downplayed, misattributed, or hidden. Nearly 1 in 5 women who have taken time off for menopausal symptoms did not disclose the real reason for their absence to their employer.

Implications for employers

Employers can advance a holistic view of women’s health and well-being. Designing a comprehensive women’s health benefits solution requires:

  • Access to holistic, women-specific care and specialists for women dealing with issues related to menopause.
  • Access to enhanced prescription coverage for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and other medications for symptom relief.
  • Access to technology to conveniently manage symptoms and proactively address health issues, such as telehealth platforms, wearable health trackers, and personalized health apps.
  • Onsite health care and employee assistance program (EAP) services that offer women-specific consultations and connect them to care and services.

In addition to making access to health care more equitable and more affordable for female employees through comprehensive women’s health benefits, employers can take steps in the workplace, including:

  • Educational workshops and resources to dispel myths about menopause, break down stigma, navigate treatment options, and help women understand their symptoms.
  • Awareness efforts to educate employees and managers on how to approach menopause and other women’s health issues with understanding, discretion, and sensitivity. These sessions can be part of diversity and inclusion training.
  • Employee resource groups to provide a safe environment to share experiences and give women a voice within the company.
  • Accommodations to alleviate symptoms and stress. These can include desk fans, offices where employees can control the temperature, and flexible working hours or locations.

As workforce dynamics continue to evolve and women occupy a growing and influential body of U.S. workers, the need for a change in thinking becomes increasingly clear. There is real opportunity to design health benefits solutions that meet the spectrum of women’s health needs. By embracing inclusivity, dismantling stigma, and offering tailored support, employers are investing not only in individuals and families, but in a healthy workforce.

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