Jo Saunders from tech training company QA explains what support for menopausal and perimenopausal women at work means and why it makes all the difference.
Over a year ago, Jo Saunders, a senior delivery manager at training organisation QA, began experiencing severe brain fog which brought with it a feeling of intense anxiety. She would start a sentence and not be able to think what words should come next. “I have always been a very practical, goal-oriented person, but I could not get my thought processes into gear,” says Jo, who manages a team of 26 trainers.
Worried about what might be causing it, she spoke to her boss and said she was not sure what was going on, whether it was just extreme fatigue or burn out or early onset dementia or something else. Her boss suggested she speak to her GP who told her it sounded like the perimenopause. Jo is 47. She says that was like “a bit of a slap in the face”. “You want to be like Peter Pan. I felt I was not ready for this,” she says.
As time went on she had more and more symptoms. She found it difficult to sleep, for instance. She spoke to a colleague in another team and jokingly mentioned the perimenopause only to find that she too was going through much the same thing. They spent the call talking about the impact it was having on their lives. Her story is one of many and is similar to those referenced in this week’s Davina McCall documentary, Sex, Mind and the Menopause.
Jo [pictured right with her son] and her colleague decided to do something about it. They knew that they could not be the only people in QA suffering these symptoms so, having researched the idea, Jo approached HR last July and asked if they could set up a perimenopause/menopause group as part of the organisations diversity, equity and inclusion work.
HR said it was a really good idea and would allow people to share their experiences and any tips on how to manage symptoms. So an MS Teams site was set up in August to create a sense of community and membership went from 0 to 70 people in just two days. “It lifted off so quickly,” says Jo, “and most of the initial comments were about how relieved people were that they were not alone.” Jo noticed that many of those who had symptoms were reticent to speak to their managers about them. “They felt they almost had to whisper about them and thought their bosses wouldn’t know what to do,” she says.
Later that month, Jo decided to draft a menopause guidance document to explain to line managers what the main symptoms are, what it is like to experience them and what line managers can do to support women going through the menopause or perimenopause, for instance, being flexible about start times if someone has had a poor night’s sleep. Karen Orr, director of people and engagement looked at the guidance and decided it should be incorporated into QA’s wellbeing policy.
Just before Christmas, the menopause group did a survey to find out how many people were affected and what support they needed. Now Jo is looking to secure budget for menopause mentors or to train existing approved listeners for mental wellbeing to understand the menopause. There is also a greater focus on line manager awareness. Jo is designing an education programme for them and would like to see that become part of the mandatory line management training programme.
In addition, the survey found that women wanted more events on issues ranging from nutrition to HRT. And there is also an interest in exploring the impact of the andropause on men and setting up an associated group.
For Jo, the work she has been doing on the menopause – all in her normal working hours – is all about normalising something that many women experience. “I know I was getting to a point where I wondered if I could keep doing my job,” she says. “Now by having these conversations and doing the research the anxiety I had has been taken away. That is really refreshing and has given me new energy. QA has always been very supportive and inclusive, which is why I have been here for 16 years, but this has given me a way to help others and to make it an even better place to work.”
*QA won this year’s WM People Top Employer Award for Best for Older Workers. All the winners will feature in our free Best Practice Report, out later this month.