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Home » Employee Wellbeing » Why businesses need to wise up on women’s health

Jane Hulme

HR Director, Unum UK

Nicola Riley

Health & Wellbeing Consultant, Unum UK

Women’s health is a hot topic. No longer a taboo subject in the workplace, businesses are increasingly getting on board to talk about reproductive health and offer support to those going through menopause.

Businesses ignore the effects of menopause on employees at their peril, according to Jane Hulme, HR Director at employee benefits provider Unum UK.

Workforce loss

“According to research from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), almost 900,000 women in the UK have quit their jobs due to menopause,” says Hulme. “That’s nearly 1 million experienced women, many of whom were in senior roles, lost in the workforce. It’s a tragedy for them and should be a real concern for the employers who are watching them leave.

“The pandemic has moved workplace wellbeing up the agenda, and employees want more from employers — better benefits, more flexible working conditions and a greater commitment to work/life balance.

“That’s why businesses need to commit to supporting valuable people through what is, after all, a very normal part of life.”

This year, Unum joined over 1,000 employers who have signed the charity Wellbeing of Women’s Menopause Pledge, promising to make organisations supportive and understanding places for employees going through menopause.

Kicking off the conversation

The CIPD’s research also revealed that three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work.

Individuals and organisations must start open and honest conversations on the subject, says Nicola Riley, Health and Wellbeing Consultant. She suggests employees who are struggling should speak with their line managers, an HR representative or a trusted colleague as a first step toward identifying and dealing with this health condition.

The same research showed that 30% of women were forced to take time off due to their symptoms — with 45% of them choosing not to disclose the real reason, simply to protect their privacy. One-third said they were just too embarrassed. “We’ve been embarrassed to talk about women’s reproductive health for far too long. It’s got to stop,” adds Hulme.

To help start the conversation, businesses should create a comprehensive plan to support those employees. According to Hulme, it’s vital to take a holistic view of women’s health: “Consider menopause, menstrual health and fertility and related treatments. And acknowledge that partners can be affected too — a good reproductive health policy should allow partners to attend fertility treatments.”

Helping people help themselves

Riley recommends employees contact their GP’s to find out what treatments are available to them and to make use of any workplace benefits in place.

“Our Help@hand app allows users to select a female GP, many of whom are trained in female reproductive health and/or menopause. And we’ve recently partnered with Bupa to offer all employees with female reproductive organs free access to its Menopause Plan.”

A recent, and already popular, initiative is the company’s Menopause Café, where employees can come together and simply swap stories of their experiences.

An inclusive policy

Almost three-quarters of businesses don’t have a menopause policy, but Unum launched a Reproductive Health Policy in March 2022. In the financial sector — 128,000 women (1 in 10) are currently dealing with menopause. Hulme says it’s obvious that businesses across all industries need to provide a supportive environment for this significant share of the workforce.

“Menopause may affect an employee’s comfort and ability to perform at their best,” says Hulme. “Employers should look at how to ensure valuable people can confide in them and have the support they need to flourish at work, or risk losing them.”

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