Guest blog from Alex Taylor RVN – BVNA including an RVN toolkit for menopause support

Guest blog from Alex Taylor RVN – BVNA Senior Vice President (Chair) and current chair of the VN Futures Diversity, Inclusivity and Widening Participation Working Group.

This year the VN Futures Diversity, Inclusivity and Widening Participation Working Group has run several campaigns, one of which was taking a closer look at how those working in the veterinary nursing profession are affected by perimenopause and menopause. We also wanted to ensure that employers and colleagues of veterinary nurses could access the relevant information to help them understand how the symptoms of menopause can affect people in the workplace and then establish an inclusive working environment.

The goal of this campaign was not just to create a toolkit that could be used to help guide and signpost both employers and employees to helpful resources about the menopause, but to provide some reassurance to those affected that they were not alone. The most recent RCVS survey of the veterinary nursing profession recorded that 97% of veterinary nurses are female, and with this in mind it is imperative that discussions between employees and employers about menopause take place so that people feel understood and supported. Creating a culture where people affected by menopause feel supported and respected could improve their wellbeing and productivity, helping to retain highly skilled and experienced veterinary nurses in the workforce.

Menopause is not just hot flushes

There is a long list of symptoms associated with menopause, which were discussed in a recent BVNA-led VN Futures discussion panel webinar about the menopause. During the webinar it became very clear that although there are some similarities, everyone’s story was different, and that menopause isn’t just about hot flushes (although they are a common symptom). Women can be affected by a whole host of symptoms, and according to the 2020-2021 Veterinary Woman/SPVS survey on the impact of menopause in the veterinary profession, 83% of women reported that menopause had impacted their health, causing symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and insomnia. Other common symptoms of menopause include night sweats, anxiety, depression, joint pain, memory problems (brain fog), headaches, digestive issues, palpitations, dizziness and osteoporosis (to name a few!) We discussed how menopause can affect women for several different reasons, it’s not just an age-related change, but could occur earlier than the average age of 51 (as reported by the NHS) due to medical treatments, disease or surgery. We also felt that although menopause is traditionally associated with cis women, symptoms of hormonal changes can also affect cis men as well as those from trans, intersex and non-binary communities.

What has become clear to me throughout our campaign is that although there is some understanding of how the symptoms of menopause affect women in the workplace, a lot of veterinary nurses are not aware if their workplace has a menopause policy or believe that they don’t have one at all. This feedback has been highlighted further by the results of a survey report from The Fawcett Society, which states that 8 out of 10 menopausal women said their workplace had no basic support in place for them and that 41% of women said that their menopausal symptoms were treated as a joke by people at work.

Menopause support in the workplace

Menopause policies are crucial as they provide guidance for employers on how to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace. This is essential for veterinary nurses, especially those working in clinical practice where their role is fast-paced and at times very physical. Some of the symptoms associated with menopause, such as poor memory, anxiety and depression can also affect a person’s confidence in the workplace. The results of the Veterinary Woman/SPVS survey also showed that a whopping 50% of respondents reported that the impact of menopause on their mental health had been moderate to severe – but adjustments can be made to help affected veterinary nurses feel more confident in their role too. Employers and colleagues can show support by listening and adopting a non-judgmental and solution-focussed workplace culture. Menopause policies may include information on who employees can speak to in the workplace and externally to access support, how colleagues can create a supportive and inclusive environment and how directors or managers can support staff experiencing symptoms of menopause. Reasonable adjustments in the workplace for menopausal veterinary professionals may include:

  • Changing uniforms so they are less restrictive or heavy
  • Ensuring cold drinking water is readily available in different areas of the building
  • Use of additional fans and air conditioning to provide a cool ‘menopause friendly’ environment
  • Giving the option of more regular breaks
  • Easy access to toilet facilities
  • Help with lifting heavy items
  • Offering a flexible working rota if this works for both the employer and employee

Commitment to inclusivity

Some employers may want to go the extra mile and include menopause training for all staff or take the Menopause Workplace Pledge, an initiative to help employers and employees show their commitment to offering a supportive and inclusive workplace environment for those affected by menopause. Offering a menopause policy and committing to be a more menopause friendly employer not only benefit those already employed, but also those who may be seeking work too, as they may choose an openly menopause friendly employer over another.

Although the recent decision by the Government to reject menopause leave was disappointing for some, several positive steps are being made to promote the wellbeing of menopausal women. The government’s response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s Menopause and the Workplace Report has included the acceptance of several recommendations including:

  • A public health campaign around menopause and its symptoms
  • Provision of accurate and reliable resources for schools to teach pupils about menopause
  • Mandatory training for GPs on menopause
  • Reduced cost of HRT prescriptions (from April 2023)
  • A government-appointed Menopause Ambassador to work with stakeholders from business, unions and advisory groups to encourage good practice and guidance for employers
  • Legislation to make flexible working a ‘day one’ right for all employees

As current chair of the VN Futures Diversity, Inclusivity and Widening Participation Working Group I am very proud of this year’s campaigns, but as someone who has experienced early menopause and its associated symptoms this campaign was very close to my heart. The menopause toolkit is freely available for all via the BVNA website and includes a recording of the menopause panel discussion, an interview with BVNA Council Member Steph Worsley about her menopause journey, links to menopause podcasts, apps, webinars and websites, copies of menopause policies, personal stories/blogs from veterinary professionals and a blog written by an HR Consultant from the BVNA Members Advisory Service.

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