Interview with Kathryn Whyte, Head of People and Culture in the Office of Government Procurement, about what the Civil Service are doing to support women experiencing menopausal symptoms.
- Can you tell us about yourself and your role?
- Tell us more about the approach to health and wellbeing across the Civil Service
- Why do you think it's so important for you as employers to ensure your approach is holistic and fully inclusive?
- What sort of activities does the organisation do to maximise this?
- We know that for many the impact of the menopause on them in the workplace can be especially challenging. What is the OGP taking in response to this - both for women themselves but also more widely across the employee populations?
- Where are we now?
I am Head of People and Culture in the Office of Government Procurement (OGP), the Central Purchasing Body of the Government of Ireland. We are responsible for sourcing the goods and services that assist Irish Public Bodies in the delivery of important public services to and on behalf of citizens.
Ensuring that wellbeing is embedded within the OGP is a key priority and one which my amazing team are really committed to and work tirelessly for! And we do this through our People Strategy, EMPOWER, which enables our strategic priorities, through increasing people's feeling of belonging and enhancing their ability to develop themselves while delivering for our clients. A key part of my role is, working with my team to facilitate the creation of a coaching culture, where people are connected to the purpose of their work and can deliver their best.
The Civil Service have designed and developed a Health and Wellbeing Framework, which was recently launched by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath T.D.
The project to deliver the framework, which a member of my team participated in, was a partnership between the Civil Service HR Division, Civil Service Employee Assistance Service and 12 Civil Service Departments. Structured around the following five key dimensions, this wide-ranging framework sets out guidance detailing the importance of a healthy workplace for the Civil Service:
- Health resources
- Leadership and good managerial practices
- Personal growth
- Physical and social environment and
- Work/life balance
Acting as a support for Civil Service Departments and Offices to help them develop their own health and wellbeing programmes, it allows them to assess the needs of their people and also provides practical advice for evaluating the outcomes and impact of health and wellbeing programmes.
Another tool we use to track wellbeing scores is the Civil Service wide Employee Engagement Survey and in the OGP case, we have seen a huge increase from our score of 45% in 2017 to 80% in 2020. We also increased our Great Place to Work wellbeing score by 11% to 77% in 2020 and are continuing to focus on this in 2021.
Why do you think it’s so important for you as employers to ensure your approach is holistic and fully inclusive?
While the commitment to championing our people’s health was made under the 'Wellbeing' pillar of our EMPOWER Strategy, it is fair to say that it is very much enabled by the other elements, ranging from:
'Engagement' - giving everyone a voice
'Making a difference' which links purpose to work
'Positive mindset' where we all take responsibility for our interactions
'Recognition' which is about acknowledging peoples’ contributions.
In the OGP we are committed to developing a culture where all employees are inspired to share their ideas and talents through leading inclusively, embracing differences and creating a work environment that fosters growth and development. We have developed a new leadership model which places a core emphasis on being inclusive, creating a safe environment where everyone can reach their potential.
Our holistic approach towards wellbeing is reflected in our varied offerings across a wide spectrum ranging from Building Resilience, Mindfulness Series, The Science of Sleep, Positive Parenting or Caring for Others, which also reflects the fact that many colleagues have elder caring responsibilities.
We also marked International Men’s Health Week, to heighten awareness of preventable health problems for men, as well as separate webinars for prostate and breast cancer awareness.
And we’ve gone further in strengthening our approach to peer support in the organisation by certifying some of our people in Mental Health First Aid and Wellbeing Coaching, to really embed an inclusive culture, where all aspects of wellbeing matter.
We know that for many the impact of the menopause on them in the workplace can be especially challenging. What is the OGP taking in response to this – both for women themselves but also more widely across the employee populations?
All organisations, regardless of the sector or industry, are impacted by menopause, whether through the lived experience of their people, as individual employees, or line managers, in both an organisational context as well as their wider personal lives.
A CIPD survey in the UK found that 59% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms said they had a negative impact on their work, with many feeling unable to share their experience with their manager or employer. It is absolutely the right thing to do to facilitate women in being open in relation to their health and wellbeing in the workplace.
That said, for such a wide-reaching issue, there can be a reluctance to either acknowledge or more widely discuss it, which compounds people’s sense of isolation. Last year, prompted by two members of the team reading the CIPD research, we decided to break this silence through the launch of a workshop entitled Let’s talk about menopause.
Partnering with Lana Litmanova who is passionate about opening the conversation further about the menopause to really help give women their voices back, the workshop was designed to both increase awareness of the topic as well as facilitating and enabling discussions where our people could speak more openly about menopause and offer support to those experiencing it.
We found that the webinar approach, in a virtual setting, offered people the opportunity to engage in a comfortable way, without having to think 'who will be in the physical room'. It also helped our people understand some of the misconceptions around the menopause and gain an understanding of how to communicate sensitively about health issues relating to it. Finally the session offered practical understanding around workplace considerations for leaders and colleagues in an open, safe and engaging space.
This year we’re building on this work and expanding this initial support to offer 1-1 private consultations where people can discuss the issues from their perspective. We’re doing it this way because we know that everyone’s lived experience is different and we believe 1:1 discussions will allow people some personal time to discuss their own unique situation, have a voice and gain some helpful insights.
What’s most important is that these support structures allow those experiencing menopause to feel as though they are being heard and their experience is understood – after all understanding and support are the core of an inclusive workplace.
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