An influential group of MPs has called for a trial offering leave for women during the menopause. Is it realistic and would it help? DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP talks to some experts to find out

Almost half of working women affected by problematic menopausal symptoms are likely to leave their jobs by the age of 55, MPs have revealed.

This shocking statistic was recently shared by a cross-party committee calling for greater rights for women in the workplace, specifically for a large-scale pilot for statutory menopause leave.

The Women and Equalities Committee said a lack of support in the UK was pushing women out of work and wants menopause to become a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, like pregnancy.

Its chair, MP Caroline Nokes, said: “Menopause is inevitable. The steady haemorrhage of talented women from our workforce, however, is not.

“It is time that the Government seizes the opportunity to enact change. It is time to support, and celebrate, these women."

The Employer

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn became the first NHS Trust in the country to state that it is a Menopause-Friendly employer. Support includes training and awareness for managers and staff, a network of support through volunteer Menopause Champions and a regular Menopause Clinic.

Jo Humphries, director of people at the QEH, said: “Those who are of menopausal age may need specific considerations and our Menopause Policy fully endorses our commitment to supporting our colleagues going through this experience.

“Earlier this year we launched our Menopause Clinic for patients and staff, which is available to all, regardless of gender identification, and in February the QEH was awarded Independent Menopause Friendly Accreditation.

“Being a menopause-friendly employer is about encouraging conversations about what an individual is going through which can reduce stress and improve the way colleagues feel about coming to work and making reasonable adjustments in the workplace for each individual to ensure we work with them to optimise their comfort, health and wellbeing at work.”

The Patient

Sarah Piercy, 50, of Taverham, Norwich, has been on Hormone Replacement Therapy, often abbreviated to HRT, for two years.

She said: “Employers should have a greater understanding of menopause and the effect it has on women, or at least have a member of staff trained to deal with it. This would then give them the tools needed to deal with individual members of staff, especially as menopause affects some women more than others.

“Menopause can be debilitating in that the symptoms can leave us exhausted and feeling unwell a lot of the time. Brain fog causes lack of focus making lots of jobs much harder to cope with. But, unlike pregnancy, menopause symptoms can span up to 12 years. This would surely be impossible for employers to manage.”

The Expert

Victoria Howell, of Norwich, is a portfolio menopause nurse and offers menopause services. She sees improvements to the workplace as a vital step forward.

She said: “Supporting woman through menopause at work, reduces attrition and supports succession planning. I welcome a pilot and feel confident it will evidence the need to have menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act.

“By providing menopause leave, it will enable sick leave reporting to be more accurate and help evidence the need for menopause support and training in the workplace.

“It is crucial that workplace awareness training [for perimenopause and menopause] is something that should be on every workplace agenda no matter how small or large the business.

“On balance it will help the gender pay gap, reduce discrimination, prevent premature retiring and promote a balanced diversity at a senior level of employees.”

The Businesses

Candy Richards, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for East Anglia, said their research had found that 64pc of small businesses employ at least one woman aged 50 or over.

She continued: "As the fastest-growing section of the workforce, it’s important that they get the support they need. Therefore, it’s positive to see discussions taking place in government about supporting menopausal women in the workplace.

“The key is for business owners to talk openly and positively about the menopause and work with their employees to put the right support in place.

“Speaking to many business owners, I know that overwhelmingly they want to support their staff. Not only does this benefit the employee, but it also benefits the business too, helping to retain valued and experienced staff.

"However, some business owners don’t know where to start in providing support. That’s why, at FSB, we have developed resources for our members including menopause policies, resources, and webinars.”

Charlotte Bate the director of support and consultancy firm, MAD-HR, said it makes sense for employers to get ahead and proactively support women in the workplace experiencing menopause.

She continued: "Attracting and retaining key talent and experience is time-consuming and costly, therefore demonstrating your commitment to support the health and wellbeing of all members of your team, including those experiencing the menopause will help maintain your employer brand and competitive edge.

"For menopause leave to be successful, leaders and managers need to be trained in raising awareness within their organisation, as well as how to support employees experiencing menopause, and those who may be affected by those experiencing extreme symptoms.

"Businesses have got to create a menopause-friendly culture, where those impacted feel confident in having related discussions in the workplace, taking the menopause leave, and not fearing that they will be overlooked, negatively judged or that it will impact their future prospects.

"Employers have to set the standard and remove the stigma around menopause, in exactly the same way it is not acceptable to use derogatory terms in relation to sex, race, or any other protected characteristic or for those individuals to suffer a detriment, I look forward to the time when menopause is seen in the same wholly accepted light."

The Campaigner

Emily Barclay, founder of the website Perimenopause Hub, brings together experts to speak about perimenopause – the time leading up to menopause.

Speaking about the call for menopause leave, she said: “I think, like in pregnancy, sometimes women need to attend medical appointments, or feel ill because of their hormones, and to have some flexibility in the workplace would be incredibly helpful.

“However, for many employers or employees it may not be practical, such as in teaching or nursing where an individual cannot work from home as an example.

“I think it could - initially - increase discrimination, as there is a perception that women should 'just get on with it'.

“Ultimately, a large percentage of women leave the workplace in this age group and it is important to find ways to enable them to keep working both from the point of view of the woman, but also for the employer.”

The Doctor

Dr Edward Morris, consultant gynaecologist at The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "The menopause should not be viewed as a taboo subject in work environments.

"In our Better for Women report, we called for the impact of the menopause to be recognised in the workplace, and for UK Governments to introduce mandatory menopause workforce policies. A key part of this is to break the stigma around the menopause, create better support and improve understanding amongst both male and female employers and colleagues.

“We are supportive of workplaces adapting current practices to support women experiencing the menopause at work."