Women's health: Quarter of women pressured into returning to work when taking time off for health issues

There is very little support for women's health conditions including endometriosis in the workplace, according to new research
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New research by women's health start-up frendo has revealed that a quarter of women working in UK offices have been shamed or pressured into returning to work early when taking time off for health issues.

The research has discovered some shocking statistics about the reality that many women face when taking time off work to manage health conditions including endometriosis, a chronic condition that affects one in 10 women and now takes on average nine years to diagnose in the UK.

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It discovered that despite workplace conversations about health becoming more prevalent there is still a lot of stigma, which can cause work-related health issues and leaving women feeling pressured to return to work when they are not well enough to do so.

What does the research say?

Frendo’s research has discovered that a quarter (26%) of women have felt shamed or pressured into returning to work early when taking time off for health issues. With over a quarter (28%) sharing that their company culture is not open when it comes to discussing health conditions, and 27% that their employer is not very willing to make allowances for health issues.

One in seven women (14%) say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their health, such as being overlooked for promotions or excluded from team activities. Two in five of those who had been discriminated against (42%) did not voice their concerns, and the same proportion did not tell their HR department. 

A third of women would feel uncomfortable talking about chronic health issues with a male manager, rising to 63% if discussing a fertility or menstrual problem. These figures fall to 16% and 22% respectively when talking to a female manager. 

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While a quarter (24%) of office-based workplaces do provide an employee support network for people experiencing fertility issues and menstrual problems, there is very little specific support in the workplace for other women’s health conditions, such as endometriosis.

To address this frendo has launched frendo@work, a workplace support programme for people with endometriosis. It aims to provide employers with the resources they need to support their staff whilst helping endometriosis sufferers manage their condition alongside their career.

Dearbhail Ormond, Founder & CEO of frendo, explains: "I have first-hand experience of being pressured into returning to work after one of my endo surgeries. In a previous senior leadership role, I accepted a WFH support programme so I could return to work faster. However, this commitment and dedication were not recognised by my employer as I was made redundant shortly after.

"Unfortunately, there is still too much stigma and shame attached to female health issues, and a lack of openness and understanding in the workplace leaves many women feeling pressured or shamed when taking time off due to ill health and unable to speak out if they are being discriminated against. 

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"Without the right support, chronic conditions such as endometriosis can prevent women from reaching their full potential in the workplace, not only affecting the employee but also the employer’s bottom line as a result of absenteeism or loss of productivity. With more education, employers can be in a better position to support and retain staff by helping them access the tools they need to manage their health alongside their career."

What is frendo?

Frendo is a digital health app that was founded and created by Dearbhail Ormond in 2020 to help support those with endometriosis, awaiting a diagnosis and everyone who is trying to support them. Sarah McCann is a Trends Writer for NationalWorld who specialises in stories around TV, Film and Health. If you liked this article you can follow Sarah on X (Twitter) here. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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