The Government has rejected calls for a large-scale pilot of menopause leave, and resisted a recommendations to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act.
They said the recommendations could unintentionally create “discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions” and that the approach, recommended by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, might not be the best solution for those affected.
A Government spokesperson urged employers to be “compassionate and flexible” to the needs of employees and said they recognise the menopause can be a challenging time for women.
Jennifer Young, founder of The Menopause Plus and a wellness and menopause expert, called the Government’s rejection a “travesty” but is hopeful progress will be made.
“All is not lost, we have existing legislation to ensure that the health and welfare of women, of all ages, is protected at work,” she says. “The goal setting nature of this law allows women to benefit from its requirements as they experience the hormonal changes associated with menopause. This law has been in place since 1974.”
Good employers are familiar with it, she says, but are often less sure of how to manage menopause in the workplace.
“No matter what the mechanism, employers have a duty to make the workplace fit the needs of menopausal women. The refusal to include it as a protected characteristic is, perhaps, a distraction from this truth.”
So, what can you do in the meantime, before more progress is made?
Ask for practical help
Menopause affects everyone differently but thinking of some practical solutions may help make your working life more manageable, for example, more time working from home or a different start and finish time, to combat troubled sleep.
“Anyone experiencing symptoms has a right to ask for reasonable steps to be taken, to ensure their health and welfare,” Young says, “whether it’s time off, a desk fan, more flexible working, work uniforms in breathable fabrics or access to technologies that can help with memory issues.”
Find out if your company has a menopause policy
If there doesn’t seem to be a culture of talking about the menopause at work, push for information on the organisation’s relevant policies and, if you need to, explain why it’s important to have one.
“If we can support women at work through the unwanted consequences of menopause, we not only do what is right and ethical by them, but we all benefit by keeping a highly-experienced pool of talent in the workplace in the long-term – if that’s what they choose to do,” says Young.
Talk to your line manager
Deborah Garlick, founder of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace who also runs Menopause Friendly, providing training, resources and guidance for organisations, says: “For some of us, it can feel difficult talking about menopause with our line manager for the first time. Remember they’re there to help you be your best at work, whether you’re experiencing menopause symptoms or any other health condition.
“Book time in with your line manager in a private room, or somewhere confidential. Prepare ahead of the meeting: what are your symptoms? How are they affecting you at work? What are you doing to manage them (have you talked to your GP)? Think about how your line manager could help.
“Your line manager may need time to reflect on your conversation or even talk to HR about the support they can offer, so book some time to catch-up again.” It’s a health issue and almost all UK workers are legally entitled to sick pay if they need it.
Know you aren’t alone
Far too many women are suffering in silence, so consider if there are any colleagues you could open up to. Having a network of day-to-day support could make all the difference.
Garlick says: “As with anything, what we hear a lot from individuals is, ‘I thought it was just me, I didn’t know who to talk to’. It can take a lot of courage to say ‘This is what I’m experiencing’. So, being able to understand you’re not alone, and [your employer] is listening and wants to change this experience, is key.
“For so many individuals in the workplace, they don’t necessarily need a huge amount of support. Just being able to be open – without fear of embarrassment, or being worried about what somebody might think – and knowing people around you will understand, is sometimes enough.”