Senior woman working at supermarket

Aside from the wrinkles, the dodgy hips and the muffled sound of voices as our hearing slowly fails us, old age truly doesn’t come itself!

Growing older is a fact of life, and whist our bodies will change with this process, this does not mean that we should become redundant or invisible when it comes to work. In 2018 the state pension age has been equalized for men and women and is now at 65, but as the years go on and on, it is set to grow. Meaning that we will all be at work a lot longer than before!

Ageism, (also called age discrimination) is when you are treated unfavourably because of your age. Age discrimination within the workplace comes in many shapes and sizes, and is recognised by AGE UK in 4 different ways;

Direct discrimination 

This type of discrimination occurs if your employer says that you are ‘too old’ to be promoted.

Indirect discrimination

An example of this discrimination is if your employer offers a new and exciting training course exclusively to recent graduates. This would constitute age discrimination, as it would systematically reject the involvement of older employees.

Harassment

This may occur if a colleague makes offensive jokes about your age, or if rude or disrespectful comments are made about the age of someone you know, like your friend or your partner.

Victimisation

An example of victimisation is if you are overlooked for a promotion that otherwise you would have gotten, after making a complaint or providing a witness statement about age discrimination within the workplace.

There is even evidence of age discrimination before employees even reach the workplace, when applying or searching for jobs there may be evidence of ageism in job adverts. Even though companies cannot specifically ask for people within a certain age limit, they can indeed use language that implies their targeting of a certain age range. Examples of this are evident in job adverts that ask for ‘15 years experience’, ‘recent graduates’ or ‘motivated and driven young people’.

Overall, ageism is a recognised discrimination within the workplace – it is an issue that is widely acknowledged and recognised amongst the professional community.

According to the America association of Retired persons (AARP) “two out of three workers between the ages of 45 and 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination at work, and job seekers over the age of 35 cite it as a top obstacle to getting hired.”

However, KWIB wanted to go one step further than acknowledging the issue of age discrimination at work, and review the practices put in place for women going through the menopause within the workplace.

More and more women are working later and later in to their lives, meaning that they are likely to be working throughout their menopause.

There are many symptoms associated with the menopause that may constrain a woman’s ability to work effectively such as; the hot flushes that just seem to creep up on you, the never-ending fatigue, the lack of concentration, memory loss and brain fog!

However, the menopause is not treated as an issue through which women are discriminated against in the same way that ageism is treated.

It is true that many companies are introducing polices to review practices within the workplace that limit or restrict women who are going through the menopause. And for the many organisations that have not yet introduced menopause-specific polices, there are some companies where employees are able to ask for help and support from their employers when experiencing symptoms. Whilst the menopause is increasingly becoming a recognised occupational health issue, KWIB argues that not enough is being done to raise awareness of the menopause as a potential cause for workplace discrimination.

Unfortunately, there are still many employers who have not facilitated a working environment that allows for women to deal with their symptoms and continue working. In fact the most that many employers offer to their employees going through the menopause is a fan! Many women feel embarrassed or that they have to hide their symptoms with many high-powered business women giving up work to completely avoid this embarrassment.

Instead, employers should ensure to support their employees who are going through the menopause. UNISON recommends 8 practices that employers can do to ensure support these women;

  1. Employers should make sure that everyone working in management understands how the menopause can affect work, and what adjustments need to be made to ensure employee support.
  2. As part of a wider occupational health awareness campaign, the issue of the menopause should be recognised, so that all employees have a positive attitude to it, rather than it be an issue of awkwardness.
  3. All female employees should be aware of how to access support for any issues that may arise through the menopause. This does not have to be a male superior; it could be through a welfare officer or human resources.
  4. Women should be aware that sickness absence is accessible for menopausal-related issues, and that this can be as flexible as they need.
  5. Any absence that is taken for a menopausal-related sickness should be treated as an ongoing issue.
  6. Working arrangements must factor-in any considerations for menopausal employees.
  7. The risk assessments should acknowledge the requirements of menopausal women, and should ensure that the working environment does not worsen symptoms. This could include better ventilation, control over temperature and a review of the material used in uniforms.
  8. Stress factors should also be assessed along with working conditions, as stress is known to bring on an early menopause and to make symptoms worse.

The menopause should not be a taboo or ‘tricky’ subject it should be openly discussed and acknowledged, allowing for employers and employees to deliver on effective solutions to making your life at work more comfortable.

Catherine Butler
Assistant Editor-in-Chief