MPs have called on employers to introduce formal policies to protect women going through the menopause.
A menopause policy should be as commonplace as maternity schemes, they said, with some pushing for legislation to force employers to take action.
Calls for greater support follow several studies that have highlighted the personal and professional impact the menopause has for some women. A survey by Newson Health of 1,100 women found that 94% of menopausal women said they believed their work had suffered as a result of their symptoms, and 53% felt their performance had deteriorated.
Conservative MP Rachel Maclean, who has been campaigning to destigmatise conversations about the menopause, told The Guardian that women should be entitled to time off or changes in shift patterns or working conditions to better manage symptoms of the menopause.
“I absolutely agree that employers need to do more. It’s not well understood,” Maclean said. “Employees don’t get the support they need. It is very difficult for women at work often.”
She added that she had heard many “horrific and heartrending” accounts. "My central message is: menopause is the last taboo because it is still hidden and it only affects women and it only affects older women. It’s ageism, it’s sexism, all rolled into one.”
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who has previously publicly shared her experiences of seeking medical help after struggling with the symptoms, said the menopause made her feel like she was "having a nervous breakdown”.
“I was really depressed and had mental health issues. I think that’s down to the fact I was going through the menopause. So many women end up on antidepressants or being told to pull themselves together,” she said.
Harris said that women going through this should be entitled to the same rights as pregnant women: “You wouldn’t dream of having a workplace where people weren’t entitled to certain things because they were pregnant, and it’s exactly the same for women [experiencing] the menopause. I firmly believe there should be legislation to make sure every workplace has a menopause policy, just like they have a maternity policy.”
Harris told The Guardian she believed that if legislation was required it would be passed by MPs.
More than five million working women in the UK are aged between 45 and 60. However, many employers lack knowledge of how the menopause affects this working group and how they can better support them, said Jessica French, learning and development manager at CABA.
“Employment of women over 50 has increased significantly in the past 30 years, and there’s now an increased corporate responsibility to ensure these women have the best quality of working life possible," she said.
“Tie this in with the knowledge that the average woman reaches the menopause at 51, [and] it’s therefore never been more important for employers and HR professionals to be aware of the impact the menopause can have on their workforce. In addition, being able to support women going through this life stage can make a huge difference.”
French said that training managers and increasing awareness should be a priority: “Look into providing training for managers so they are best placed to support your employees. Make efforts to develop policies that ensure a universal knowledge of the symptoms that the menopause often creates and how they can affect employees in the workplace. Also try making sure all of your employees are aware of the health and wellbeing policies within the company. This will not only be a reassurance to them, but also a guide for creating a pleasant and comfortable working environment.”
Breaks when needed, flexible working patterns, and revising uniform policies should also be considered, said French: "Normalising this natural stage in a woman’s life will not only remove any stigma, but also help to create a happier and more motivated workforce that will appreciate the lengths you and your business have gone to to maintain workplace wellbeing."