I have spent the past seven years trying to decide if I was going mad. At times it has been almost unbearable as people say “Yes, those hot flushes are awful aren’t they” and I say “I don’t know, I have not had those, ever, at all!” One of the main symptoms that women often experience to tell them they are approaching a major change point in their life did not happen for me. Instead, brain fog, memory loss and anxiety fuelled by raging insomnia made me a complete mess.
My colleague wrote candidly back in 2019 about her experience of the menopause, so I thought that I would do the same with some helpful pointers as to what we, at CHaRM, can offer to help women at work based on our own experiences. The menopause is so individual in terms of how it affects women and one major step is to realise that just because someone is experiencing different symptoms to others, it does not mean that the impact on them is any less.
Over recent months I have run two support sessions for women in different businesses and the response has been positive in both cases. "I didn't know that HR could help in this way" is often the response that we get when we step in with our holistic approach to deal with employee well-being, but we are here to help.
I am so tired.
Like, really tired.
And it’s not just me.
Everyone I speak to who now who has worked all the way through lockdown without a break is tired.
Some of us are reaching the point of no return. The pace of life since 23 March 2020 for those of us who have worked all the way through has been immense. From our point of view it has been great to be needed by our clients, but the pace has been relentless. And there is no let-up in sight. As employers therefore we need to make sure we take care of those who have worked all the way through without a break. We are responsible for their well-being at work.
Most importantly, those who have worked all the way through lockdown and beyond need a break. I have mine towards the end of September but I am the last in my organisation to take a break. It can’t come soon enough for me.
As an employer, what are you doing to make sure that you are looking after your staff, at whatever level, who have worked for five months without a break?
I am no longer a person. I am not a human being. I am a robot. An automaton. At least that’s what many of my clients and their managers think. It must be, because during the coronavirus pandemic they seem to have lost their manners. No ‘please’. No ‘thank you’. Just ‘I want’, ‘I want’ and ‘I want it now’.
The reality however is significantly different. I am a living, breathing, real life human being. With feelings and emotions. I have bust a gut during lockdown and beyond to make sure that we don’t let our clients down when they have really needed us. A little bit of appreciation along the way wouldn’t have gone a miss. If we ever were really ‘all in this together’, it certainly didn’t last very long.
As always there are exceptions and some of our clients remain lovely to work with. I thanked a client recently for saying thank you. He must have thought I was nuts, but it was such a rare occurrence that I felt the need to appreciate his appreciation (and his manners). It costs nothing to say thank you, but it means so much to the person you are saying thank you too, especially if it is genuinely meant. Another client rang me recently to see how I was, because he was aware that the only time he got in touch was when he needed something and he felt it was time he rang just to see how his ‘partner' was. Because that’s what we are, an HR Partner, and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all our clients who have shown faith in us by asking us to help and guide them through this really strange event that has lasted since 23 March 2020. It is good to be needed. It is equally good to be appreciated.
Towards the end of last year we terminated our relationship with a client; a fairly new client that we had worked with for six months but realised during that time that we were just not compatible. Deciding not to continue to work with clients is not something we do very often – only 2 or 3 times before in our 24 year history – so it is a big decision to take, but there comes a point in everyone’s lives when they have to stand up and be counted for what they believe in, and what we believe in is fairness, equality and good management.
The directors in this business did not believe in any of those things. They knew the words to say but when you got to know the organisation, the leadership behaviour displayed was very different from the words spoken. The lack of employment law knowledge at director level was frightening, but their complete disregard for the law and as a consequence, the people they employed, was worse.
My experience with that organisation made me think very hard about values, both my personal values and what I stand for, but also the values that we hold as a business. Ethical business, honesty and treating people fairly are essential to a successful business and without them, the consequences are clear for all to see – British Home Stores and Carillion being clear examples.
As a woman in business for many years, and a fervent believer in equality, I generally dislike ‘women’s issues’ to be debated in public. Any talk of excuses being made for women because of periods or menopause immediately make us seem less capable than men, which we are not. We have more things to deal with than men do, but we are no less capable and we take things in our stride.
However, during the summer, I saw something on the news that made me reconsider keeping women’s issues out of the public debate and question whether we should just take things in our stride. It was a woman talking about how the menopause had made her feel suicidal. That really struck a chord with me as all I wanted to do after two years into a really difficult menopause was drive my car into a lake and drown myself.
It has given me immense pleasure over the last ten days or so to watch a family of Blackbirds grow to maturity, having left the nest about 3 weeks before. For the first ten days the chicks were hidden under a bush, kept out of site by protective parents, but as they have grown in confidence they have been running around our garden testing their wings and soaking up everything that is new around them. Their father has been caring for them and feeding them as Mother Blackbird is not around. Unfortunately I don’t know why. Every morning and evening as I watch them it has made me think about the lessons we mere humans can learn from the Blackbirds.
There are both people management and people development lessons to be learnt from the Blackbirds so in this blog I am focusing on the HR or people management lessons that came to mind as I have been watching the chicks grow up.
I never imagined when I set CHaRM up 21 years ago that we would still be going strong all this time later. All I knew at the time was that I needed to get out of corporate life and stop working for stupid people who let their egos get in the way of anything positive happening. Like most people who start their own business, I did not really understand what I was letting myself in for or how much I needed to learn about running a business. All I knew was HR really; the rest came along the way - sales, marketing, accounts etc. What I really wanted to do was to provide HR support to businesses who didn't have the same support as larger businesses. I knew how effective HR could be when it was done properly, and the impact it could have on businesses and on people's lives. That is what I wanted to do and that is what we have been doing here at CHaRM over the last 21 years. We are very fortunate to have such a good bunch of clients - people who do care about their employees and want to do the right thing by them. That fits so well with our own ethos and anything we can do to support that is great. I believe every small and medium sized enterprise should have great HR support.