Menopause support in the police sector
Author: Jo Faragher
We look at how the menopause can affect women working in the police sector and some of the initiatives that are being taken to support them.
Even though around half the population will experience the menopause at some point in their lives, three out of five women have suffered at work because of its symptoms, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
The HR body found that almost two-thirds of women aged between 45 and 55 (65%) felt it affected their ability to concentrate, more than half (58%) said they experienced more stress and 52% said it made them less patient with clients and colleagues.
During the menopause, which can last a number of years, women experience a range of symptoms from sleep disruption and hot flushes, to psychological issues such as increased anxiety, mood swings and memory loss.
Employers can help employees manage many of these symptoms through small adjustments in the workplace such as offering a desk fan or seating an employee near a window, or by accommodating flexible work practices when an employee has, for example, suffered a poor night's sleep due to insomnia or hot flushes.
Police Federation survey
For certain types of work such as policing, supporting female employees through the menopause is not as straightforward as it might be for those in a more typical office environment. As a consequence, employees may not feel supported.
A recent menopause survey by police union the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) found that "44% of respondents who found their symptoms extremely problematic" had considered quitting the force because their symptoms had made their work lives too challenging. It also found that 76% of respondents who had gone through or were experiencing the menopause had found their symptoms either moderately or extremely problematic at work.
Almost two-thirds (62%) had attended work despite feeling that they should have taken sick leave, and 35% of respondents had taken annual leave or rest days to take time off.
Specific challenges for police
Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for the CIPD, believes that from a practical perspective, police employers face a number of additional challenges that other employers might not. Shift work is common, access to washing and toilet facilities might be difficult while out on duty, and certain officers may be required to wear items such as stab vests, which could heighten symptoms.
A culture of awareness is just as important as physical adjustments.
Rachel Suff, CIPD
"If you have to wear a restrictive, synthetic or rigid uniform, that may make things difficult," she says. "Employees might need regular changes of uniform, access to showers and toilets (if heavy bleeding is an issue) and a supply of drinking water. Working shifts could become an issue for female employees who suffer from disrupted sleep." But arguably the biggest issue related to menopause in male-dominated workplaces such as the police is communication and awareness. Suff adds: "A culture of awareness is just as important as physical adjustments. Making sure women can have a discussion with their line manager is crucial. There are 30-plus symptoms you can have and no one's experience is the same."
Lack of training and support
Unfortunately, the PFEW survey found many forces to be lacking in support for those going through the menopause. Many respondents said that they would be too embarrassed to discuss symptoms with their line manager and feared they would be treated differently in a negative way if they did disclose. And while 86% of managers who responded to the survey said that they would be confident to support someone they managed who was going through the menopause, only 11% had been given any training on how to offer this support.
In England and Wales, around a third of female police officers are aged 45 or over, the union says, so the menopause has the potential to affect thousands of people within the police service.
"There is still a lot of fear around reporting sickness absence as due to menopause, and lots of systems don't even list it as a reason for absence," says Hayley Aley, national board representative for the PFEW. "If we don't even know how many people this affects, how can we build support? If it's a case of someone having a bad night's sleep or night sweats, they could discuss coming in late with their manager and you're more likely to keep that person in the workforce."
There is still a lot of fear around reporting sickness absence as due to menopause...
Hayley Aley, Police Federation of England and Wales
Aley and the PFEW have created a set of national guidelines for forces in England and Wales that they hope will be approved later this year. Aley adds: "With a lack of the same legal framework as maternity, adoption or even surrogacy, managers can ultimately say that menopausal symptoms don't affect someone's daily work enough to make adjustments. When it's a 'nice to do', there's no stick, the option is not to do it so they don't."
Implementing guidance from the top ranks of the organisation will ensure guidance is followed, she believes.
Police force initiatives
Some forces are already ahead of the game in developing their own menopause policies. Nottinghamshire Police was the first in the country to introduce a formal policy, written by one of its own police officers, detective constable Keeley Mansell. She had to overcome colleagues' wariness of using the word "menopause" but buy-in from the (then) chief constable helped to give the issue more profile. "She really wanted to get on board with it as we have more women staying on in the force, we are working longer and so we need to deal with these issues."
Events boosted line manager awareness and the force is now working with academics at Nottingham Trent University to gauge if the policy has been effective.
A policy can't be ignored, it has to be taken seriously.
Keeley Mansell, Nottinghamshire Police
Mansell believes it is crucial that forces introduce policy rather than relying on managers' empathy or common sense. She says: "If you've got a strong supervisor you don't need policy there for back-up, they will just allow you to reduce your hours or have some flexibility. But a weaker manager will feel better if they're backed up by policy. A policy can't be ignored, it has to be taken seriously."
As outlined in the CIPD Guide for people professionals: The menopause at work, West Midlands Police offers a "reasonable adjustment passport" to female workers explaining menopausal symptoms and the adjustments needed. Employees can discuss and agree the adjustment passport with their manager, for example physical adjustments such as a fan or access to cold drinks or flexibility around start times. The document is fluid so can be adapted if symptoms change, and portable in case the manager leaves.
And, as reported by the BBC, at Greater Manchester Police, there is mandatory training on the menopause and employees are able to state menopause-related illness as a reason for absence.
Aley believes this is an important step as many symptoms of menopause exist independently - many women suffer mental health issues, such as menopause-related anxiety, so being able to record the cause rather than the symptom makes absence reporting more accurate.
The CIPD guide offers a number of practical pointers for employers in any sector on supporting women through menopause, such as creating an open and inclusive culture where women feel supported (for example with the help of women's networks or menopause ambassadors), and developing a framework around menopause, including by being more proactive (for example by monitoring the age and gender profile of the workforce).
Other initiatives that employers can take to assist staff include:
- being flexible about toilet breaks;
- providing training to line managers about how the menopause can affect performance and what they can do to help;
- raising awareness about what facilities are available to staff;
- ensuring that employee assistance programmes and occupational health teams are geared up to support women seeking help and advice (particularly as some employees find it difficult to discuss the menopause with their employer); and
- implementing a policy on supporting employees.
Risk of claims
There may not be a legal framework around menopause the way there is around maternity, but employers could still risk employment tribunal claims if they do not take into account the potential impact that menopause symptoms can have on employees' performance.
For example, in Davies v Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service ET/4104575/2017, a court officer had serious medical issues related to the menopause. Sometimes she also felt "fuzzy", emotional and lacking in concentration.
She thought she had been drinking her diluted medication from a jug in the courtroom and that two men had accidentally drunk the solution, so she warned them about this.
A health and safety investigation found that the medication could not have been in the water. Ms Davies was found to have "knowingly misled" the two men and the employer that the medication was in the water and had therefore brought the court into disrepute. She was dismissed.
The employment tribunal found that the effects of her menopause caused her to be confused about whether or not she had taken her medication. The tribunal also found that allowing its assumption that Ms Davies had lied, rather than just been confused, to influence it disciplinary process, was a major flaw in the employer's process. She won her claims for both disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.
Although a number of forces have followed in the footsteps of Nottinghamshire and West Midlands to launch their own policies, it is hoped that national guidance for all 43 forces in England and Wales will give managers this much-needed backup to support female employees.
... we're losing expertise and experience, so it's a cost to the public too.
Hayley Aley, Police Federation of England and Wales
Aley says: "Managers need the confidence that senior leaders will support their judgments and that they can make reasonable adjustments. We don't have figures on people who have left the force due to menopause but our survey showed that many would consider it." And as more women stay in employment longer, addressing this issue will be essential for retention.
Aley concludes: "When people left they didn't feel they could do their job anymore - this means we're losing expertise and experience, so it's a cost to the public too."