Recently there has been an increased national interest in supporting women’s health and wellbeing in the workplace, which has been reflected in the Senate’s current inquiry into issues related to menopause.

Many advocates for workplace gender equity have been calling for dedicated leave and workplace support that is tailored to accommodate the unique challenges associated with menstruation and (peri)menopause.

However, in our submission to the Senate Committee, SAGE has cautioned policymakers not to draw hasty conclusions based on an undeveloped evidence base.

While people experiencing (peri)menopausal symptoms may require additional accommodations in the workplace, SAGE cautioned the Committee against singling out (peri)menopause as a discrete workplace challenge to be addressed independently of other health and wellbeing needs.

Our experience supporting and evaluating initiatives to improve gender equity in the education and research sector suggests that when workplace practices and policies single out a particular group of employees, the risk of unintended consequences—such as discrimination, stigmatisation, reinforcing stereotypes and even creating backlash against those experiencing symptoms —increases.

We should normalise, not stigmatise reproductive health at work

Equitable workplace policies and practices are those that focus on supporting all employees through different life events and transitions.

(Peri)menopause is a time-limited life transition that can largely be managed by lifestyle change and, for some, by medication.

SAGE therefore recommends that a health and wellbeing lens is the most appropriate way to pursue equitable workplace experiences and support people experiencing this particular life transition, ensuring that workplaces ‘normalise’, not pathologise (peri)menopause.

We recommend an integrated, systemic approach that allows individuals to navigate their own circumstances and needs while protecting their right to privacy and preventing unintended negative consequences.

This means creating a systemic approach—a focus on fixing the system to support the health and wellbeing needs of all employees, rather than targeting individuals or specific demographic groups.

Access to flexible work is critical to managing menopause

Allowing employees to ask for reasonable adjustments to their work hours, patterns, or locations provides the autonomy people need to manage health and wellbeing, including symptoms of (peri)menopause.

Working from home, scheduling medical appointments as needed, and taking breaks to manage severe symptoms would all enable employees to navigate health and wellbeing challenges, including those presented by (peri)menopause.

Improving flexible work in this way also contributes to the creation of a culture of support and a positive work environment, which is a key driver of employee wellbeing, retention, engagement, productivity, and organisational reputation.

SAGE has recommended that the Committee explores the potential to expand the rights afforded under the Fair Work Act to give all employees the right to request flexible working arrangements if they are experiencing health and wellbeing challenges.

Currently under the Fair Work Act an employee has the right to request a change in their working arrangements if they require flexibility for a range of reasons— however, these reasons do not include experiences of (peri)menopause symptoms, meaning that health and wellbeing for (peri)menopausal employees is not being adequately captured by the National Employment Standards.

Recognising the value of systemic changes that allow employees to manage their own health and wellbeing circumstances, we also recommend the Committee considers the possibility of creating a universal right to request flexible working arrangements.

Read SAGE’s full submission.