October was World Menopause Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness around the natural realities of female health. It was an opportunity for men, women, health professionals, employers and the media to learn, work together and combat global stigma and misinformation.
Menopause happens to every woman, in every culture and in every country. No one can avoid it, and yet no one likes to talk about it. For many, menopause is a life-changing and isolating experience, made worse by the lack of support at home, in the community or in the workplace.
But lack of support often stems from a lack of awareness; not knowing what women are experiencing during this change and consequently not knowing if or how to help.
Menopause isn’t just a female issue and we’re committed to providing the women in our workforce with optimal comfort levels
The big comfort problem
Knowingly or not, we all want to feel comfortable throughout the day and night.
During unseasonably hot weather we often find ourselves complaining of not being able to sleep or overheating in the night, consequences of which include fatigue, mood swings and lower productivity. Not only does the heat affect our sleep but it affects our ability to work, causing brain fog, lack of motivation and an inability to stay focused.
Working in uncomfortable conditions impacts our ability to work well and when we’re all suffering from the same environmental conditions we are able to sympathise with one another. But women going through menopause too often go unsupported at home and at work.
Menopause, comfort and productivity
Hot flashes and sweats are the most common symptoms of the menopause and affect three out of four menopausal women. They’re often characterised by a sudden feeling of heat that spreads throughout the body. In some cases, women have reported experiencing hot flashes every ten minutes throughout the day.
Menopause is different for every woman, but it’s not uncommon for symptoms including hot flashes to continue for many years.
However, menopausal women are demographically, the fastest-growing group of workers in the UK, and in a survey by the British Menopause Society, 45% of women feel their symptoms have a negative impact on their work.
In a separate survey led by YouGov, 65% of menopausal women reported they were unable to concentrate at work and 58% said they experienced more stress. Previous research has also found that severe hot flashes are associated with lower work productivity and lower levels of feeling healthy. There are also links between menopause symptoms and women being less engaged at work, less satisfied with their job and having a greater intention to quit.
At home, up to 63% of menopausal women report sleep disturbances as a result of hot flashes and night sweats. Loss of sleep can take a big toll on wellbeing and menopausal women may consequently feel more anxious, irritable and stressed, as well as finding it more difficult to remember tasks and to stay focussed.
Although comfort may come across as a subjective need, it is in fact integral to our happiness and achieving our potential.
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can’t reach self-actualisation or the best possible version of ourselves until we have fulfilled lower tier needs. At the very bottom of the hierarchy are physiological needs, including warmth, sleep, shelter and other biological needs necessary for survival.
But is a menopausal woman experiencing hot flashes, headaches and general discomfort in the office, with no means of temperature regulation going to be able to achieve higher-level needs? In other words, can she be her best at work? And is she physically comfortable enough to be productive and achieve her short term and long term work goals?
Likewise, will women who’re suffering from lack of sleep due to menopausal symptoms be able to function optimally in their personal and professional lives?
Air conditioning and menopause
Creating a comfortable environment is one clear opportunity to support women, at home and at work.
Air conditioning in particular is the easiest and quickest way to reduce room temperature, providing relief from hot flashes and night sweats.
In the bedroom, air conditioning allows direct control of the environment. It’s recommended to set air conditioning at the highest level that minimises hot flashes. A trial and error phase is inevitable for women to monitor their bodies reactions and adjust the air conditioning controls as necessary until they can find the most comfortable setting. Directional fans on the units can also be directed so that the body is kept cool throughout the night.
In a survey by UNISON, women reported that symptoms such as hot flushes, headaches, tiredness and sweating were made worse by the office environment. In particular, high workplace temperatures were believed to magnify symptoms. In the same survey, nearly half of the women reported not having control over their temperature leaving them powerless over their situation.
Guidance published by Acas and the Faculty of Occupational Medicines both stress that workplace temperature must be considered under health and safety risks for menopausal women. It’s therefore important to ensure that employees have access to air conditioning.
Of course, employers have a responsibility for the health and safety of all their employees, which can make it difficult to regulate temperature in a way that satisfies the majority of the workforce.
In offices where lowering the room temperature is not an option, ensuring there is at least air movement is an effective option. Providing access to windows which can open, mechanical ventilation or desk fans are alternative ways to mitigate the effects of the workplace environment on menopause symptoms.
Air conditioning benefits for all
The benefits of air conditioning will, in fact, be experienced by the wider workforce, in addition to employees who are going through menopause.
Maintaining a consistent temperature and humidity level helps to increase alertness, critical thinking and efficiency whilst combatting the lethargy and sluggishness that comes with working in a warm office. According to one study, employees experience a 2% decrease in productivity for every 1°C above 25°C.
Air conditioning, either at home or in the office also has the ability to improve air quality by filtering out microscopic particles such as dust and pollen. This not only benefits those suffering with allergies, but it also creates a much healthier place to live, sleep or work in.
It is therefore important to recognise that air conditioning can have far-reaching benefits for all individuals, and should be looked at as a holistic solution for improving health and wellbeing.
Menopause as an organisational issue
With the workforce getting older, more women than ever are going through menopause at work. It is therefore not just a ‘female issue’ but an organisational one too. Employers are responsible for the health, diversity and inclusion of all employees and menopausal women and their colleagues require support as part of the approach to employee wellbeing.
Risk assessments should consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse. This includes assessing temperature and ventilation.
This is of course, just the start of supporting women going through menopause, and there are many other ways businesses can assist during this time of life.
From training for staff and managers, considering the materials of uniforms and allowing flexible working arrangements for women who may need to leave suddenly; there is no need for women to feel isolated or penalised for reaching a natural stage in life.
The menopause is a natural part of life. Some women may cope well with the physical and emotional changes, but others may find it particularly difficult to cope, both in and outside of work.
We are all aware of how problems outside of our control can impact on our ability to function and perform, and for menopausal women, these problems are made worse by the misunderstanding and lack of awareness around the experience of menopause.
Air conditioning is a practical solution that can help to alleviate certain menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, allowing menopausal women to work, sleep and live comfortably. It is also a solution that can have far-reaching benefits for the wider workforce, allergy sufferers and other family members.
But environmental considerations are only the start of supporting women at home and in the workplace. Menopause is one of the strongest taboos still existing in society and makes the experience an isolating one.
World Menopause Month was an excellent initiative to raise awareness around the impact menopause has on the everyday lives of the women around us, and we hope to continue raising awareness on how best to support women going forward.
Sharon Oliver is Channel Marketing Manager