Total Rewards (Comp & Benefits)

Uncommon perks: How one healthcare company developed a menopausal leave policy for its employees

Symptoms associated with menopause can be debilitating; this pharmaceutical company is working to make sure its employees can take time off to deal with them if needed.
article cover

Hannah Minn

5 min read

As the CHRO of a company dedicated to addressing women’s health issues, Aaron Falcione knew he needed HR policies that addressed those same needs for its employees.

“We are pursuing scientific solutions that can address some of the vasomotor symptoms that are often associated with menopause, and some of the other side effects that are life-altering,” Falcione said. “Certainly, we should be doing something internally within our policy framework to acknowledge the same.”

So, his team at the multinational pharmaceutical company Organon got to work on ways the company could address the needs of current and future colleagues going through menopause.

Perimenopause symptoms at work. Leah Millheiser, chief medical officer at menopause telehealth platform Evernow, said she hears from patients “all the time” that they are suffering in silence.

“There’s no way to escape menopause,” said Millheiser, who is also a practicing ob-gyn at Stanford University Medical Center with expertise in menopause care. “Women are not retiring in their mid 40s and early 50s. They’re in the workplace, and they’re working hard.”

Perimenopause (the months or years leading up to menopause) symptoms, which are often the most pronounced, aren’t talked about at work, and women don’t often feel comfortable sharing them with colleagues or supervisors, she said.

Around 85% of women experience perimenopausal symptoms; Millheiser said that these can include insomnia, which can lead to fatigue, brain fog, word-find issues, anxiety, and irritability. These symptoms are often the most distressing, but hot flashes can also disrupt a workday, according to Millheiser.

“Hot flashes can just be triggered by any small incremental change in your body heat, but it also can be triggered by stress,” she said, meaning a work event could perhaps provoke one.

Millheiser said each woman experiences hot flashes differently; some can “grin and bear it,” but others turn bright red and sweat, sometimes leading to sweat stains under their arms or on their clothing.

“It can be really embarrassing. It can be really distressing, and the worst part is women feel like they’re being judged,” she said. “Oftentimes, they have to walk out of meetings and just breathe it out, let it pass, and then come back in; sometimes they don’t have the luxury of doing that.”

According to a 2022 report from the UK-based Fawcett Society, 44% of people employed during menopause reported their ability to work had been affected, and 10% had even left their jobs.

Menopause comes at a time, Falcione noted, when many womens’ careers are reaching “an inflection point.” They’re heading into senior management roles or executive leadership, so creating policies that accommodate them at work was crucial to Organon’s gender parity goals.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.

What’s HR to do? Millheiser and Falcione said destigmatizing menopause symptoms at work is an important first step: Create education and training for executives and managers for handling employee needs; provide a space where women can take five during a hot flash; allow employees to move workstations nearer a window (Millheiser said sunlight can improve mood), or offer employees a desk fan.

At Organon, it also looked like incorporating menopausal leave into the company’s care leave umbrella and equipping managers with information on how to handle the needs of someone experiencing symptoms.

According to Falcione, the company rolled out its care-leave policy in the US earlier this month, based on a framework that Falcione’s team developed to ensure all of Organon’s global employees have access to similar benefits: self-care, caring for a loved one, family planning, and home emergency.

Organon surveyed employees and collected anecdotal information about what employees were experiencing, which then informed the framework. It also tapped its network of global benefits experts to understand the international landscape, before finally creating a toolkit for the company’s local HR leaders.

Its toolkit highlights perimenopausal symptoms as a key reason employees may need to use this type of leave. Falcione wrote in a follow-up email that the policy establishes a minimum standard of 10 days leave, then allows for Organon’s HR leaders in other countries to adapt to local law or offer more generous benefits based on what’s mandated in other locales.

“Our goal is to have a much more globally-consistent care-leave policy…that highlights the importance of menopausal symptoms as a reason for the leave,” Falcione said.

The toolkit builds on the company’s work to normalize conversations about menopause, which included a speaker series on menopause last fall featuring employees’ experiences, and efforts to create a culture where employees are encouraged to “be real” with each other, wrote Falcione.

Part of the policy, Falcione said, is to acknowledge that menopause isn’t a “special circumstance.”

“We’re using the policy to articulate the fact that sometimes self-care leave is appropriate and it shouldn’t be stigmatized,” he said. “We’re trying to create a dialogue through our policy decisions that enable people…to be able to take that time off as they need to.”—AD

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.