Menopause at Work
Managing the effects of the menopause at work is vital for both employers and their staff. For those experiencing symptoms it can be a difficult and stressful time, so it is important for employers to understand the ways in which they can support the needs of their workforce.
Menopause is often dismissed as something that only happens later in life. The reality is that the average age for a woman to reach menopause in the UK is 51, with symptoms starting on average at age 43, some 21 years earlier than the average retirement age.
According to the British Medical Journal, the term ‘menopause’ denotes the final menstrual period. In a broader sense, the term refers to the changes that happen around the period stop. These changes can be wide-ranging and often continue after the last period. For many women, these changes bring a whole range of symptoms, such as; fatigue, brain fog, loss of concentration, hot flashes, bloating, sensitive skin, heavy periods, anxiety/depression and increased UTIs.
Brenda is 47 years old and has been a Police Special Constable for 20 years.
“I have always loved my job and thrive on the variety of challenges it brings. Recently, however, I’ve found it more challenging than usual; I don’t feel I’m doing my job at the same level. I spend many days either confused, upset or off-the-scale angry. I’m also really anxious that other people have noticed a change, and I’m terrified that my boss will see a drop in my work quality and I’ll get sacked. I’m a confident person, often the only female officer on shift; recently, I’ve snapped back at things that would generally make me laugh.
My uniform is driving me crazy too. It’s so hot and itchy to wear. I sometimes end my shift with raw patches of skin where my waistband has rubbed or under my arms where the friction caused by the extra padding of my stab vest has caused the fabric of my shirt to rub my skin. It can be distracting. I’ve started to feel constantly bloated, making my uniform tight and hotter than usual. The sweats I get when I’m out and about are also embarrassing.
I dread the cold months as much as the summer heat at times when I need to wear full rain gear and PPE. I feel trapped in so many heavy layers and can’t seem to breathe properly. I’ve even had full-on panic attacks and felt totally out of control. I dare not speak to my line manager about this because he’s bound to say I’m no longer capable of doing the job, and then what?”
The first step employers must take to create a ‘menopause friendly environment’ simple actions such as providing awareness training for everyone and more specific training for line managers that teach how to have sensitive conversations providing guidance where required—monitoring temperature and ventilation in workspaces, giving access to desk fans for those employees that need them and providing free sanitary products in washrooms all help towards making employees more comfortable.
Uniform and PPE standards and requirements need to be considered to ensure that those experiencing symptoms of menopause are comfortable and able to carry out their role with confidence. Certain fabrics can exacerbate symptoms, and light-coloured uniforms may increase anxiety levels for women suffering from some symptoms common throughout menopause. Comfort waistbands and easy-access fastenings can help to ease bloating and help those suffering from stiff joints and reduced dexterity.
With these things considered, we at Murray believe that we can positively inform the conversation around menopause at work, advising our clients on the kinds of clothing and fabrics we can offer that will help to ease the physical symptoms women feel during menopause.
Research has shown us that the most common symptoms experienced throughout menopause are fatigue, anxiety, and hot flashes. Using temperature-regulating fabrics or yarns with cooling technology benefit the wearer, making them more comfortable at work. Material that is more lightweight and allows for stretch alleviates discomfort experienced whilst wearing a work uniform.
As well as the type of fabric, design has a part to play in creating uniforms that benefit those experiencing symptoms of menopause. Mesh panels ensure ventilation and breathability, as well as the shape of garments being more flattering. We have worked with several clients to help women suffering from the symptoms of menopause, offering more options and several different pricing bandwidths, from temperature-regulating fabrics to more breathable fabrics with a higher content of cotton.
Support such as this makes staff feel valued, heard, and visible; colleagues will thank you for it with their motivation and loyalty. A menopause-friendly workplace can not only prevent knowledgeable and experienced colleagues from leaving the business, but it can also attract talented and enthusiastic colleagues, which is an excellent way to future-proof your business.
Physical and mental symptoms of menopause impact 3 in 4 people at work, with 1 in 4 experiencing symptoms so severe and debilitating that they no longer feel they can continue to do their job without additional support. With women of menopausal age being the fastest-growing demographic in the UK workforce today, statistics such as these should prompt employers to review existing policies and ensure more is done to support staff members experiencing symptoms.
Whilst menopause is not a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, if an employee or worker is disadvantaged and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination if related to a protected characteristic, such as sex, age or gender reassignment.