workingwise.co.uk talks to Sarah Fryer at Zurich about her career ups and downs and the support she received to overcome problems associated with the menopause.
When Sarah Fryer went through her first round of IVF, she was told repeatedly not to raise her hopes. She had had knockbacks before. The first clinic she went to said she couldn’t have children; the second that she only had a 5% chance of success. After the egg extraction operation, only one viable egg was found and she was told it was unlikely that the egg would proceed to the next stage. It did and she now has a nine-year-old daughter from her one ‘miracle egg’.
Sarah was 41 at the time and gave birth as a solo parent. She took two years out of work for maternity leave because it was so important to her to have time with her daughter.
Sarah works in financial services as Head of Global Brand Tracking, but started working in customer research and insight for agencies before moving to the client side and working for companies such as McDonald’s, Sony and Camelot. After leaving McDonald’s where she was Head of Consumer Insight before her maternity leave, she worked for a small local agency that was 15 minutes from home, turning down an offer from a large global drinks company. She knew the agency role was a career risk, but the work resonated with what she wanted to do – turning insight into action – and there was no commute. It was full time, but unlike the other role there was no international travel. She stayed for a year and moved on after finding that it was more innovation-focused and didn’t play to her strengths.
She then spent a few months doing some consultancy work for various clients before starting at insurance firm Zurich six years ago where she was struck by its flexible hours and supportive environment. Within a month her boss was encouraging her to take a permanent role. She had offers from financial services in the past and was not particularly drawn to the sector, but she was won over by the Zurich culture.
Sarah took a permanent job as Head of Consumer Insight & Service Design which drew on her work on customer experience at McDonald’s. Initially she worked four days a week, something that is really important to her as a solo parent and allows her to volunteer regularly at her daughter’s school. Her boss noticed that she was doing more than four days, however, and suggested she work a compressed week. “The fact that he recognised that I was putting in more effort and delivering shows how amazing Zurich is,” she says.
It hasn’t been plain sailing since Sarah started at Zurich though. Just before the first Covid lockdown she started falling over and didn’t feel herself so she went to her GP and had a blood test. She was told she was going through the menopause. However, she was prescribed the wrong type of HRT and the wrong dosage [because of the IVF her hormone levels were lower] which caused brain fog, exhaustion and anxiety – something she had never suffered from before.
She had to take four months off work. “I was in a scary place. My emotions were all over the place due to the chemical imbalance,” says Sarah. She had to pay for a private specialist in order to get the right medication so she could function again, although it took a few months for her hormone levels to be normalised. Before that everything was a challenge. She could only get her daughter to school and home. Fortunately, the school was really understanding of her situation and allowed her to take her daughter to school during the Covid lockdown because she was unable to support her during the day. At one point she thought she would have to leave her job.
Throughout this Zurich were very supportive: she continued to be paid while on leave and she had a phased return to a new role. By October 2020 she was back to her normal hours. After her time out she had begun to doubt her ability, but being back at work in a new role as Head of Global Brand Tracking helped rebuild her confidence. Last November she was told her responsibilities would be extended as part of a restructure and she has just started her role heading up brand tracking plus the global TNPS and RNPS platforms – which measure customer loyalty and experience after a specific interaction or transaction and the broader customer relationship – alongside Customer Key Performance Indicators. “I was excited to face a new challenge and that was a sign of how back to myself I was,” she states.
On her return to work she had contacted the Chief HR Officer, Steve Collinson, and said she wanted to share her experience. “He was amazing,” she says. “He really listened.” Not only that but he got her involved in devising the company’s UK menopause policy, which was reviewed last year.
For Sarah the company’s flexible and family friendly policy has also been hugely important. Her daughter has been in hospital twice in the last two years and she says Zurich has been very supportive. “They understand and know I will catch up,” she says. At the moment she works aims to work in the office two days a week, which she says is good for her energy levels but not always possible with early morning calls with teams in the Asia Pacific region.
On the back on her menopause experience she is about to start training to become a mental health advisor. She says: “I hope I can support women going through my journey as well as apply what I learnt through my experience. I’m also excited to share with others and help how I can.”