Caron Bradshaw: Time for charities to talk about our staff’s long-term health conditions

30 Mar 2023 Voices

Charity Finance Group’s CEO speaks openly about living with endometriosis and explains why more needs to be done in the workplace to support those who live with long-term health conditions.

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of Charity Finance Group

Charity Finance Group

I read a report recently that said there are around 15 million people in the UK living with a long-term health condition, and the number of people with multiple conditions is increasing. 

I’m one of those people. I have endometriosis, a common yet often-ignored condition. On the one hand, it’s surprising to me that so few people have heard of endo, as it’s often called. On the other, this is a gynaecological disease and that can make it difficult to talk about. 

March is Endometriosis Action Month and it has led me to do a lot of thinking. While I’ve always been open with colleagues at CFG and elsewhere about my health conditions (endo is just one of them) I haven’t ever spoken about it more publicly. When I ask myself why, it’s partly because there’s no way to put what it entails delicately. 

Managing symptoms

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been at work, or about to go into a meeting or speak at an event, and felt the horror of blood running down my leg, often accompanied by a blast of pain that takes my breath away. Too much information? Therein lies the problem.

The reality is that excessive bleeding and pain are just two among several symptoms. One in 10 women, and people with uteruses, have endo and at times it can be utterly debilitating. But those living with it often don’t realise they are because recognising the symptoms and seeking a diagnosis is the first and sometimes difficult step. 

According to Endometriosis UK, 89% of 16–24 year olds would put off going to the doctor if they were experiencing painful periods which were interfering with their day-to-day activities. 

This was my experience – I wasn’t diagnosed until my early twenties, after over a decade of trying to manage how I felt, being largely dismissed and without truly understanding what was going on. It was frightening and lonely. This is why I feel it’s crucial to shine a light on endometriosis, as well as other long-term health conditions. 

Behind the scenes, many of our colleagues have physical health challenges and long-term conditions that make everyday life and work difficult. I would bet that a sizeable number don’t have a diagnosis and many others will be at the early stage of learning how to manage their symptoms. 

We need to talk more

If we want to look after the health and wellbeing of our people, we need to do more, to talk more. 

I’ve long said that when leaders share their vulnerabilities, it empowers others. It creates space and time for discussion, for opening up to one another. It’s not always easy, of course. In my experience, many leaders still work to disguise or minimise what they or others can perceive to be weakness. This is human nature. 

It’s important to say that no one should feel pressurised or forced to disclose more about their health conditions than is comfortable for them. As with other conditions, everyone’s experience of endo is unique to them. Symptoms can be mild or severe. Sometimes there is no pain or other obvious factors until suddenly you can't conceive, or you lose multiple pregnancies.  

Those differences mean we need to think creatively about how we look after our people and create safe environments in which greater understanding can be fostered about the needs of people with long-term health conditions. We must remember – 15 million people – the chances are you employ someone who is affected.

My finance colleagues in the room will understand the cost of this; more than 30 million working days are lost each year to long-term health conditions. And we have legal obligations to look out for the health of our staff too. 

But these aren’t the main reasons why employers and leaders should think about doing – and saying – more. For me, it’s just the right thing to do. In our sector, our work is often born of strife and every day, thousands of healthcare charities work hard to raise awareness of different conditions and diseases.  

So, let’s get talking and let’s shine a light, for those with endometriosis and many other conditions.

Further reading and support: Managing and supporting employees with long-term health conditions

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