Alex Watson, HR Business Partner for Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCH&C), outlines how the Trust has developed a strategy to address the issue of women’s health in its workforce.

Women have specific health and wellbeing needs. 80 per cent of our workforce are female and we have recognised their needs through a workstream devoted to them in the overall health and wellbeing strategy for women’s health. Through this strategy, NCH&C has provided dedicated resources, tools and support for all the five stages of women’s health – menstruation, fertility, pregnancy and maternity, the working parent and menopause.

What did NCH&C do?

Most of the Trust’s female workforce are older than the average worker. There are therefore constant recruitment drives to attract younger members to its ranks. NCH&C adopted a proactive strategy to address the challenges faced by women throughout the five stages of their health.

With support from the Health and Wellbeing Group, a committee comprised of subject matter experts including communications, HR, staff engagement, the MSK lead, members of staff and trade unions, along with other relevant workstreams within the organisation, we agreed to take some definitive steps to address women’s health across our workforce.

Working in partnership with trade unions, a Menopause Guide has been developed to provide resources and support to Trust staff. It details the sort of symptoms that might be experienced during the menopause and how they can impact performance and behaviour at work. It also outlines some reasonable adjustments that should be considered, as well as detailing internal and external sources of support.

To support this guide, a facilities map has been developed. It lists all main Trust sites and the facilities available for staff, such as restrooms, showers, changing facilities, drinking water, Wi-Fi and hot desks.

The Trust’s uniform and dress code policy has been revamped. Revisions include extending the summer adjustment period from May up to and including September, in order to allow staff to wear lighter, more comfortable clothing. Additionally, staff can now wear lightweight tunics and purchase additional uniform at Trust prices.

Increasing awareness amongst staff

Delivering clear and concise information on women’s health to staff has been key to NCH&C’s strategy. To this end, new resources and support have been developed and are delivered through a Health and Wellbeing briefing, each month. The current briefing coincided with Cervical Screening Awareness week, used to highlight the national campaign and to encourage women to attend screening tests. The briefing outlines why it is important to get tested and offers new resources available. This information has been cascaded through team meetings and staff communications. A new page on the staff Intranet has been developed, which outlines the five stages of women’s health. It also provides direct links to internal policies and support, as well as external resources.

Results and benefits

Establishing metrics to measure such a multifaceted scheme will always be a challenge. That said, NCH&C’s 2019 NHS Staff Survey results demonstrate that the Trust has managed to maintain high levels of engagement with these initiatives.

Positive findings from the staff survey include:

  • Fewer staff reporting that they are coming into work when not feeling well enough (the average increased).
  • Of those staff who have a condition lasting more than 12 months, 80 per cent felt the Trust had made adequate adjustments to enable them to carry on at work.
  • A positive increase in staff recognising opportunities for flexible working.
  • 75 per cent of staff reporting that their immediate manager takes a positive interest in their health and wellbeing.

Informally, staff and managers have repeatedly said that they have found the guide useful. They feel more comfortable and better prepared to have a conversation about their experience of the menopause. Male colleagues have also expressed how helpful they have found the resources, both at work and in their home lives.

It has encouraged staff to come forward and share their stories. The Trust is now exploring the possibility of establishing a “menopause café” to provide support to other staff.

Overcoming Obstacles

There was some initial criticism about why the Trust was focusing on women’s health to such an extent. However, once we explained that we would also be focusing on men’s health later in the year, and colleagues understood our overall rationale and approach, then it was easier to implement our women’s health strategy.

Challenging entrenched stereotypes has been important. Beliefs such as “they just need a fan” or “it doesn’t impact male staff” or “I thought they were on HRT” have been overhauled. The Menopause Guide is consciously aimed at all staff and provides resources for those experiencing symptoms. Managers and colleagues have been instrumental in engaging staff and providing them with reassurance that the NCH&C will support everyone by making the working environment more comfortable.