Angela Bandeira of Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust shares her experience of setting up a menopause support group.
Why did you want to set up a menopause support group?
I am an improvement facilitator for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and I have worked for the Trust for the past 19 years. I am a mother of three from Blyth, Northumberland.
The initial idea to set up a support group for women going through this life-stage change came about through my own experiences which became part of whispered conversations in the corridor or in the kitchen area. It made me wonder how many women were feeling the same way as me, how many were suffering alone and worrying about feeling abnormal because of symptoms, including loss of confidence and memory, weight and sleep problems and, of course, the dreaded hot flushes.
I began to do some research, which highlighted around a quarter of the workforce of Northumbria Healthcare are women aged 50 and over. The increase in retirement age forces more and more women to work during this time of life and they also have to deal with the symptoms that go with it. However, organisations don’t seem to have any measures in place to support this, nor any understanding of the condition.
From that, I posted the suggestion of a support group on the Trust’s staff Facebook group. It all took off from there and the Menopause and Andropause staff network group, equality and diversity is important at our trust so we do not exclude men from joining if they so wish, was set up and launched last year.
How do you support people to manage the menopause at work?
The group has brought women together within the Trust and beyond. It has raised awareness of the topic and allowed them to share their feelings and experiences and support one another. This wasn’t possible before. The group has encouraged an open and honest platform to laugh, hug and have a tear without any judgement. I hope the group will be able to develop a ‘managers’ guide’, which will help our managers understand the symptoms and how to offer support. Hopefully, this will help identify which of the Trust’s services can be tapped into to help with associated symptoms. For example, health and wellbeing, counselling, mindfulness.
Other improvements are also in the pipeline. Guest speakers are invited to come along to the groups. We have had a physiotherapist who has an interest in acupuncture to help with hot flushes speak at our first two meetings and have had interest from our health trainers who are more than happy to discuss diet/exercise and how this can help. It is also apparent that many of the group are suffering the consequences of life changes and the detrimental effect it can have on relationships. For example, lack of libido has been discussed and the huge impact this can have on relationships if the partner is not supportive. This is a subject I feel is very much a private conversation, but the group can offer so much help raising awareness.
How did this come about?
The Trust has an internal staff Facebook group and I put up a post calling for ladies of Northumbria of a certain age and the responses were just phenomenal. A quarter of Northumbria Healthcare’s workforce is women over the age of 50 and I thought, there has to be more women going through what I am, and so I bravely reached out.
I did think ‘oh no, everyone in the Trust knows I am going through the menopause’ but if by sharing my experiences I can help others then I can live with that. Afterwards, I was approached about creating a network group as part of the Trust’s commitment to staff engagement and staff experience, and it grew from there.
How has it been received?
I have lost count of the number of people who have reached out to me and thanked me for what I have done. We are now working in partnership with Northumberland County Council too and a number of organisations have contacted the Trust which are keen to understand how they can better support their staff.
Who is involved in the group?
Me, as the staff network chair, the engagement and inclusion lead for the Trust and the County Council, the health and wellbeing leads for the Trust and the County Council as well as employees of the Trust and Council who facilitate an open group discussion. We are also hoping to have different guest speakers who can share their knowledge or advice for services that can help.
What does the group do?
We share stories, advice, remedies and coping strategies. I have also suggested a more informal approach by starting a WhatsApp group, so I am currently collating telephone numbers.
It has been suggested that we meet for walks and coffee out of work or do exercise together. We also share websites, articles and television programmes which might be of interest or can help.
The Trust library service has also reached out to express its support. They have sourced a number of self-help books to deal with life-change issues, menopause, getting older, mindfulness, resilience, healthy eating and exercise. They have also put together a leaflet and have a display which supports our network groups.
What advice would you give to other organisations/individuals looking to help people manage the menopause at work?
Be honest with your colleagues and employees and encourage an open culture so people aren’t embarrassed to talk about it. Remove the taboo. Don’t be judgemental. Don’t make assumptions. Have compassion and understanding that your employee or colleague is having a tough day and ask if you can help in any way?
If your colleague is really suffering with hot flushes don’t insist on having the heating on full; compromise. Memory loss, brain fog, depression, self-doubt and lack of confidence should be accounted for. Everyone should be at their absolute best when they are at work and if they aren’t, try to help them to be better than they are feeling.
Ensure human resources are on board with this life-stage, have policies and procedures in place to support and understand colleagues, in the same way as mental health and pregnancy-related issues are recognised.
Personally, I felt the tumbleweed blow across the floor when I revealed I was having menopausal symptoms in my return to work sickness review with my male line manager and young male HR representative. Give staff the chance to voice their condition without the embarrassment that goes with it.
Who else has made this possible?
I would like to thank the Trust for the support they have given me in allowing this group to be part of its health and wellbeing and equality and diversity forums. I am especially grateful to the many colleagues who have been as brave as I have, by talking openly about their struggles and for the thanks they have given me. I just want to make a difference and I would like to thank everyone who has attended the groups, as they are making it possible and allowing the organisation to accept change needs to happen in our time of change.