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Supporting Women’s Health in the Workplace

HR leaders can cultivate an engaged, productive, and resilient workforce by prioritizing female well-being.

By Amanda Martell

Women’s health has become a top priority for HR teams and employers, and for good reason. Not only do women consistently make up roughly 50% of the workforce each year, but women are predominantly in charge of benefits decisions for their families and shoulder most of the parenting and caregiving responsibilities that often result in productivity loss, attrition, and talent loss when employees are forced to choose between family needs and professional opportunities.  

While women are essential to the success of the modern workforce, they still face numerous barriers in the workplace, including pay gaps and unequal access to career advancement opportunities. By understanding the unique needs and challenges females face, companies can implement relevant, comprehensive wellness programs that are supportive and inclusive for all.  

With five generations of women in the workforce at once, meeting all of the diverse needs of employees is a tall task for today’s HR teams. For example, Gen Z and millennials may be looking for benefits that make it easier to start and raise a family or that encourage work-life balance and positive mental health, while Gen X and baby boomer women may be silently struggling with the side effects of aging, menopause, or the pressures of caregiving for aging parents. 

Developing a benefits program and a workplace culture that supports the needs of current and future women employees requires that HR teams first understand the issues and what they consider a holistic approach to establishing a supportive and positive environment. Here are five steps HR teams can take to accomplish this goal. 

  • Offer resources that reinforce a healthy connection between hormonal changes and nutrition. As health and well-being knowledge has evolved beyond “diet culture,” conversations have moved from a singular focus on calories and weight loss to a deeper understanding of how what we eat influences emotional and physical health. This includes how nutrition can positively–or negatively–affect hormonal changes in women. Such education is critical, as roughly 80% of women struggle with a hormonal imbalance at some point in their lives.  According to the National Library of Medicine, nutritional habits affect women at every stage of life, and can be optimized to positively impact longevity and quality of life. Recent reports show the positive results of educating employees about nutrition. Data from LifeSpeak’s Wellbeats Wellness shows 92% of women who enrolled in one nutrition education program were able to successfully identify foods that influence hormonal balance, while 94% were able to establish a plan of action to improve their hormonal health. Whether an employee is living with migraines caused by her menstrual cycles, trying to become pregnant, or experiencing menopause symptoms, providing educational resources and lifestyle support about the connection between nutrition and hormonal balance can help mitigate symptoms, which can bring comfort to women employees and help them stay focused and productive at work and in their personal lives.  
  • Encourage physical activity that is accessible and sustainable, regardless of age, ability level, or lifestyle. Taking time during the day for a vigorous gym workout isn’t realistic for everyone, depending on schedules, where they work, their physical abilities, and their interests. That’s why it’s important for HR teams to focus instead on educating employees about different types of activity that can reduce the aches, pains, and discomforts of hormonal changes, help mitigate negative health risks, support future health goals, and contribute to positive mental health. Staying active is especially important for women because hormonal changes can increase risk factors like bone density loss and weight gain, which are contributing factors to a host of other conditions. A study of post-menopausal women showed those who were regularly active experienced between 18% and 22% improvement in symptoms for such conditions. Employers should encourage all employees to exercise–or simply get up and move–throughout their workday, whether that means taking a 15-minute walk or doing five minutes of stretching several times a day. Offering an on-demand, virtual fitness program is also an effective way to make a variety of fitness content easily accessible to all employees and their families. Workplaces that offer at-home workout classes as part of their well-being benefits, or who encourage employees to make time throughout the day to be active, may be more attractive to top talent of all ages and genders.  
  • Provide support and flexibility for working caregivers. According to the United States Census in 2020, there were 23.5 million working women with children, many of whom are also the primary caregivers for aging family members. While caregiving is rewarding, it is not a job for which most people receive any training. As a result, employees must figure out how to fit caregiving into their rest of lives – including their work lives. This can result in lost productivity as employees juggle caregiving appointments with work during the day and, in extreme cases, loss of talent when employees feel forced to choose between caregiving and work. For example, during the pandemic, 800,000 women left the workforce because of the loss of childcare, and data from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP indicates that 34% of employees who are caregivers eventually leave their jobs because their workplace does not provide the flexibility they need.  HR teams can reduce the risk of talent loss and create a workplace culture that attracts working caregivers by providing policies–such as allocating private spaces where women can pump if they are still breastfeeding or where they can make private phone calls regarding caregiving appointments–and benefits solutions that educate employees about caring for loved ones with a variety of needs. To level up caregiving benefits, employers can also consider solutions that connect employees to community resources or specialty providers, and even consider giving employees access to an advising concierge resource for more personalized support.  
  • Normalize conversations about mental health and keep the topic top of mind. Mental health is the cornerstone to positive overall well-being. However, mental health can take a backseat when life gets busy – as it often does – and when employees are experiencing physical discomfort or symptoms from a medical condition or hormonal changes. Studies show that tailoring mental health resources to specific reproductive phases can expedite recovery and well-being for women in the workplace. HR teams should work to keep mental health top of mind for employees of every gender and encourage utilization of benefits like on-demand educational resources, behavioral health benefits, virtual mental health counseling, and community or employee-based support groups. Considering that an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to absenteeism from depression or anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion U.S. dollars per year in lost productivity, it’s clear that helping employees feel their best mentally and physically will save workplaces time and money.  
  • Encourage open discussion about perimenopause and menopause. Perimenopause and menopause can be tremendously disruptive for women, disturbing sleep cycles, increasing the risk of anxiety and mood swings, and making women twice as likely to experience a major depressive episode. There are many ways to help mitigate these symptoms, from stress reduction and mindfulness training to physical fitness benefits, the ability to control temperature in the workplace, and flexible schedules that allow women experiencing these changes to work when they are most able to be effective. Encouraging open and honest discussion of these transitions can also be incredibly helpful because it supports education for women who are experiencing perimenopause and menopause, while demonstrating that they are not alone and helping coworkers understand the additional burden these employees may be experiencing.  

By prioritizing women’s health and well-being, employers can cultivate a more engaged, productive, and resilient workforce. This investment in inclusivity not only empowers women to thrive, but also fosters a company culture that values diversity, equity, and belonging. This crucial step can allow organizations to unlock the full potential of their women employees and create a more equitable and successful future for all. 

Amanda Martell is director of human resources at LifeSpeak Inc. 

Tags: wellness, Women's Health

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