In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of women’s health in the workplace. Businesses are beginning to acknowledge the need for support and policies tailored specifically to women’s health needs, from menstruation and menopause to fertility treatments and female cancers.
Similarly, the Government is taking a more active role in addressing women’s health concerns, as evidenced by the recent appointment of Helen Tomlinson as Menopause Employment Champion in the UK.
Historically women’s health needs have often been overlooked by businesses, leading to significant challenges for women in the workplace. In the UK, research by the UCL Social Research Institute found that women who are going through the menopause between the ages of 50 and 55 take an average of two months off work because of their symptoms, while women who experience early menopause (before they reach 45) take four months off.
Businesses have been slow to react – a recent You Gov poll found that around seven in ten companies still do not have a menopause policy.
On a positive note, research by Reba and Howden published last year found that 85% of employers will be focused on personalising benefits by 2024 and 88% offer or plan to offer menopause support.
To fully drive change, businesses need to do more to support women, starting with discussing female health issues. Every female employee will experience periods and menopause, with a range of possible symptoms and associated health conditions that can impact their productivity and performance. Hence, normalising conversations about women’s health issues and encouraging open communication and support for women’s health is vital.
Adopting a proactive approach tailored to the needs of female employees can lead to improved performance, talent attraction and retention, and reduced sickness absence rates.
But to truly establish a workplace that values diversity, inclusivity, and empathy, involving men in conversations and making them aware of the challenges their female colleagues may face is essential.
Men are likely to be unaware of women’s monthly cycles or the symptoms they experience during menopause. They may not automatically know what can make life easier, such as providing sanitary products in toilets and sanitary bins in every cubicle or having cooler offices for women experiencing hot flushes. Involving them in discussions will promote better understanding and support and empower women to speak out and ask for assistance when needed.
Providing psychological safety
However, it is important to note that while the stigma surrounding women’s health conditions like menopause is slowly breaking down, not everyone wants to share their personal health challenges.
To ensure that women feel comfortable seeking help, employers should tread carefully. We recommend businesses review their leave policies around specific areas, such as fertility and menopause, and ensure it is part of the culture and people know it. It’s no use having a policy hidden on the intranet; it needs to be front and centre so that women feel supported.
Businesses could also consider offering wellbeing days as a tool to allow women to take time off without disclosing personal details, enabling them to deal with their challenges privately. However, regardless of the support provided, normalising conversations and creating awareness and opportunities for open dialogue are crucial.
Howden offers a free guide, “Supporting women’s health in the workplace: from periods to menopause and everything in between.” You can download the guide here.
For more information, please visit www.howdengroup.co.uk.
Emma Capper is the UK Wellbeing Leader at Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing.