Today (18 October) is World Menopause Day, an important opportunity to raise awareness of what is often a difficult subject to discuss.
As a senior sponsor for the Cross Government Menopause Network (CGMN) I want to emphasise the importance of providing support for those who may be struggling with difficult symptoms. Here, Tracy Rose from the Driving & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) shares her experience of the menopause.
I had worked in DVLA for over 30 years and was a very confident manager, often asked by my senior leaders to take on a new process or lead a team through change. This had never phased me previously, and I excelled when challenged and took pride in my people management skills.
Whilst at work, around five years ago, I felt I was not myself and even had a little dizzy spell at my desk. Nothing to worry about, I thought – I just needed lunch. Then, following one of our meetings, I had a very strange feeling – I physically could not stand, and dropped to the floor on all fours.
My colleagues were immediately at my side, talking to me. Although I was disorientated, it was following this episode that I realised I had not been myself for many months and could not go on without a visit to the GP.
A trip to the GP…
The day before my visit to the surgery I panicked as to how do I explain my symptoms if I do not know what they are myself. After discussing this fear with my husband, he went on to list what he’d seen and felt this would help. Tiredness, headaches, aching, loss of appetite, episodes of panic and, worst of all, ‘the fog’.
My GP was very patient and helpful. She did point out that I also had high blood pressure. (I used to have low blood pressure). Not just menopause was diagnosed. I also had osteoarthritis and RSI in my hands, which was obviously giving me some pain. After being prescribed medication and advice on sources of help, I began my own personal journey on the ‘road of menopause’.
Back at work, my middle and senior manager had changed and were also both male. Although my team supervisors were well aware of my health concerns, my new managers were not.
Losing my confidence
From the strong manager I had previously been, I now felt I could no longer manage staff and perhaps needed to look after myself. I had lost my confidence in meetings and would no longer take part, for fear of forgetting the point.
I met with my team and explained how I would develop them and that they would learn all about menopause and how to support future members of staff. I also requested an occupational health referral to consider if I could reduce my line management responsibilities or even change roles.
I felt I was letting my team down. Some days I could not even manage small tasks, and I began to experience some more embarrassing symptoms where, on more than one occasion, I had to leave work to change my clothes. The hot flushes were well and truly kicking in, and I found I could no longer multitask.
Finding my mojo again
Over the last two years, I have begun to rediscover my ‘mojo’. I have changed my role and now only manage three staff, and I cannot thank my colleagues enough for their understanding and support.
Last year, the DVLA HR Health & Wellbeing team ran an event on ‘Menopause in the workplace’, at which I even presented myself, to help raise awareness of the symptoms and how we can all,male and female, understand and provide support. I would urge colleagues to talk about the menopause at work – it could change your life.
My own experiences are the reason I believe the work of the Cross Government Menopause Network is so important. The Guiding Principles and toolkit they have produced for use by women, line managers and colleagues help to bring an otherwise ‘un-discussable’ subject out into the open, so no one need feel alone or suffer in silence. These resources are available on Civil Service Learning and the new Learning Platform for Government (for colleagues who work in departments that have migrated to the new platform).
These products are widely recognised as best practice for providing support for the menopause at work. ‘Henpicked’ has applauded this work to “springboard menopause in the workplace support out broadly across all Government and become ‘truly ‘menopause-friendly’”. The Business Disability Forum has also welcomed “the acknowledgement that talking about menopause has been a taboo in the workplace until very recently...and it is great to see the Civil Service making great strides towards a more inclusive workplace culture.”
While the Civil Service’s menopause products are primarily aimed at information, advice and guidance relating to women, they are relevant for anyone who might be undergoing any form of hormone treatment, as often the symptoms can be very similar or, indeed, the same.
I would urge everyone to take a look at the products. We will all be touched directly, or indirectly, by this important subject.
For more information, or to get in touch, please email the network at: firstname.lastname@example.org.