Workforce well-being blog by Jacqui Neil – Workforce Lead for Nursing

2020 is the ‘International Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ so it seems the right time for my first ever nursing blog. These will continue each month to celebrate the contribution and dedication of our nursing and care staff across Scotland.

This year offers the prime opportunity to hear about the spectacular work that is happening across our care homes in Scotland ,and to showcase this through our Nursing Blogs and to get our talented staff involved by being guest speakers, and take on the Nightingale Challenge.

Our aim at Scottish Care is to provide a topical platform for updates to keep staff informed and to support employers, and through our staff guest speakers to inform the wider care sector that this sector offers fantastic career opportunities for staff at all levels, and delivers quality care to our residents across Scotland.

January’s blog is looking at Workforce Wellbeing, as it’s the start of the year, and it’s important that all our staff take time to think about their own health and wellbeing, to ensure safe and quality care to their clients/residents.

The social care workforce in Scotland is predominantly female and organisations like Scottish Care have long argued that the way in which the workforce is treated in terms of fair work practices, equal pay and other related matters is often one rooted in a discriminatory approach and is evidence of gender segregation. Research indicates that gendered ageism seems to be the cause of many problems women experience whilst working. This will require a change in prevailing values, beliefs and norms within organisations. Viewing the treatment of female staff through a human rights lens would have a significant impact on the retention of staff.

In light of this I have decided to look at Menopause in the Workplace due to the fact that 86% of the workforce are women and to promote awareness of how managing this can improve retention of staff and reduce the days lost to sickness absence.

The average age of the workforce employed and applying for posts in the care sector is 46 years and above. Many are likely to be mothers, grandmothers or informal carers, alongside choosing to work in an extremely physically and emotionally demanding workplace.

Being aware of this and also that staff may also be experiencing issues as a result of bereavement (personally and or/at work), financial pressures, or other health conditions, is important and knowing that all of this could escalate their menopausal symptoms. Beyond the menopause, the lack of certain hormones in women can lead to increased risk of brittle bones and heart disease.

According to the National Statistics Department (NSD) the average age of women experiencing the menopause is 51 years, although this can happen much earlier for some women, with 1 in every 100 being under 40 years. Nationally there are 3.5 million women over 50 in the workplace and this is set to increase due to the increased retirement age.

The Care Inspectorate’s recent report found women workers over 50 years account for 45% of care workers. This therefore means that a significant amount of women working in care are experiencing symptoms in relation to the menopause, and for some these are very significant and impact on their work and personal lives. It is therefore paramount that this issue is recognised and understood so we can ensure that the working environment is supportive, and that staff feel secure and valued.

The true impact of this is under-reported as many women do not seek help, despite experiencing severe physical and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, loss of confidence as well as severe fatigue and difficulty sleeping. At a time when the care sector is in crisis in relation to recruitment and retention of staff, it is key that the staff who are employed take responsibility, and feel empowered to raise this if they are experiencing menopause symptoms that are impacting on their job.

Findings from a new national report revealed that over 370,000 working women in the UK aged between 50 and 64 admitted they have left, or considered leaving their career, because dealing with the symptoms of the menopause in the workplace was too difficult. As in the NHS, staff absence in the independent care sector for short and long-term absences is increasing in this age group, with data suggesting 1 in 4 experiencing menopausal symptoms consider leaving their jobs. Moreover, in a recent study involving a 1000 women, nearly a third of women surveyed (30%) said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms, but only a quarter of them felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.

Presenteeism is highlighted as a bigger issue than absenteeism in some areas, as staff are fearful of being reprimanded for being off sick. Especially when many are being managed through inappropriate HR policies, with a lack of occupational health support, which not only prevent staff caring for their own health, but also can negatively impact on the quality of care provided to residents/clients.

This can be achieved by developing more support and by introducing mandatory equality and diversity training around age and gender. This may include the implementation of policies around menopause related absence and flexible working arrangements, as well as encouraging informal women’s support networks across the workforce.

The Equality Act (2010) protects women against workplace discrimination on the basis of sex or age, whilst other pieces of legislation place a general duty on employers around Health and Safety and the welfare of workers.

Recent figures have shown that women aged 50 to 64 are the fastest growing economically active group, and therefore have the potential to support the social care recruitment crisis if they are encouraged to join the workforce and managed and supported to be at work.

The employee should adopt a self -management approach and consider ways to ensure that they are looking after their own health and well-being:

  • Keeping hydrated in line with the RCN’s ‘Rest Rehydrate Refuel’, which campaigned to ensure staff get nutritional breaks. Ensure breaks are taken, it’s in no one’s benefit to work on.
  • Uptake of the flu vaccine remains considerably low, even in the NHS where staff can access free. This needs to be available to all care staff working with vulnerable adults as this prevents unnecessary short-term absences. It’s not too late ……
  • You don’t need to join the gym, go for a walk.
  • Eat healthier / Drink responsibly
  • Seek help with smoking cessation.
  • Mental health and wellbeing information guidance.

The following is a list of organisations/websites that offer valuable help and support to women suffering the symptoms of the menopause:

  • British Menopause Society: http://thebms.org.uk
  • Menopause Matters: www.menopausematters.co.uk
  • NHS: www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause
  • Menopause.org.uk: www.menopause.org.uk

Employers should consider positive changes within the working culture and environment to alleviate the difficulties for women to enable attendance at work, and when absent are able to be supported back to work at the earliest opportunity:

  • Encourage all managers to undertake a course to deal with this, and to take account of the menopause transition. This would be a positive step to improving retention and days lost through sickness absence. The 2013 TUC report, Supporting working women through the menopause, found that 45% of managers did not recognise the problems associated with the menopause.
  • More recently according to the Wellbeing of Women Survey (2016) despite employers requiring an inclusive workforce, around two thirds offered no specific support to women experiencing difficulties related to the menopause.
  • Ensure supervision meetings. The Strathclyde’s Scottish Centre for Employment (SCER) research findings and interviews found that care workers valued supervision as a source of support and an opportunity to reflect on practice.
  • Managers and colleagues should be more understanding, including education for ALL members of the workforce.
  • Option of flexible working hours and time off for appointments.
  • Provision of a quiet, cool room with fan to allow staff time out.

Finally in 2019 the Laura Hyde Foundation  launched a well-being badge for nurses to wear  that states ‘Ask me how I am’,  in a bid to allow the public  to consider the staff wellness.

 

Jacqui Neil

National Workforce Lead for Nursing, Scottish Care