In this article, we will explore the unique health and wellness challenges faced by women in the workplace and discuss what employers can do to address these challenges and promote a healthier and more supportive workplace culture for women.
Picture this: a woman sitting at her desk, staring blankly at her computer screen, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. She's been working long hours, juggling multiple responsibilities, and trying to keep up with the responsibilities of her job. She knows she needs to take care of herself, but there never seems to be enough time in the day.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar for many women in the workplace. Women face unique challenges when it comes to their health and wellness – from the pressures of work and family responsibilities to societal expectations and gender biases. As a result, many women struggle to prioritize their own health and well-being.
Now imagine a scenario where women feel healthy, both physically and mentally. They have access to healthy food options and opportunities for physical activity throughout the workday. They also have access to mental health resources, knowing that their well-being is just as important as their work. They feel supported in taking breaks and managing stress, knowing that their employer values their overall health and well-being.
As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's take a moment to reflect on the health and wellness challenges that women face in the workplace and what we can do to overcome them. These challenges are not just statistics or numbers but real-life struggles that affect the well-being of countless women around the world.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Employers have the power to create a supportive and inclusive work environment that promotes the health and wellness of women. Let’s explore some of the key issues facing women in the workplace and look at strategies for promoting health and wellness.
Health and Wellness Issues That Women Face in the Workplace
Women face unique challenges when it comes to their physical and mental health, and these challenges can have a significant impact on their work and personal lives. Let’s explore the health and wellness challenges that women face in the workplace.
1. Mental health challenges
One of the most significant challenges facing women in the workplace is mental health. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, women are more likely than men to experience mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and stress. This can be due to a variety of factors, including the pressure to excel in their careers, societal expectations, and the struggle to balance work and family life. Further, according to a Women in the Workplace report, working mothers are twice as likely as fathers to worry that their job performance may be negatively impacted by their parenting responsibilities. Despite the increasing number of women in the workforce, there is still a stigma attached to discussing female health issues, such as postpartum depression, perimenopausal anxiety, and infertility.
Another challenge facing women in the workplace is burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that is caused by prolonged stress and overwork. Women are particularly susceptible to burnout due to the additional responsibilities they often have outside of work, such as caregiving and household chores. Women in top positions, who have historically claimed to need to work harder than men, are burning out more frequently today than males (28% versus 39%).
3. Gender bias and discrimination
Gender bias and discrimination can also take a toll on women's health and well-being in the workplace. Women may face challenges like unequal pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, and even harassment and abuse. These challenges can lead to a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. This can have a significant impact on women's ability to perform their jobs and advance in their careers A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that women who experienced gender discrimination at work reported higher levels of stress and lower levels of job satisfaction than their male counterparts. Gender bias and discrimination can also impact women's confidence and self-esteem, which can further contribute to poor mental health. Women may feel undervalued, excluded, or unsupported, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection.
4. Menstrual leave
For many women, menstrual pain and discomfort can be a significant challenge that impacts their ability to work and perform daily activities. This can result in lost productivity, missed workdays, and reduced quality of life. Menstrual leave can provide women with the time they need to recover and manage their symptoms, allowing them to return to work feeling refreshed and more productive. However, the concept of menstrual leave is not without controversy. Some argue that it reinforces gender stereotypes and could potentially harm women's career advancement. Others argue that it could lead to discrimination against women in the workplace, with employers potentially avoiding hiring women to avoid the additional cost and inconvenience of menstrual leave. Despite the controversy surrounding menstrual leave, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that menstruation can pose for women in the workplace.
5. Taboo surrounding physical health challenges
Physical health is just as essential as mental health, but women may feel uncomfortable discussing gynecological health concerns with their employers. Research from the Work Foundation advocates ending the stigma towards women with health issues in the workplace. Endometriosis is an example of a chronic illness that affects some women of childbearing age. Heavy bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, and exhaustion are just a few of the symptoms. Women with endometriosis and other gynecological disorders may be hampered in their careers and experience a decline in mental health if their employers do not provide adequate accommodations. Unfortunately, several women with gynecological disorders don't feel comfortable approaching their employers and asking for help, especially if they report to male management, out of worry that they won't understand their demands.
What Can Employers Do To Address These Challenges?
Employers can take several steps to address health and wellness challenges for women in the workplace, including:
1. Promote a supportive and inclusive workplace culture
Employers can promote a culture that values and supports women by creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. This can involve initiatives such as offering mentorship and career development opportunities, implementing policies and procedures to prevent discrimination and harassment, and ensuring that women have equal access to job opportunities and resources.
2. Offer mental health resources and support
Even though improving mental health is a personal journey, it is important to remember that the process is affected by structural factors like support from coworkers, supervisors, teams, and institutions. As a result, it is the responsibility of company leaders to raise awareness about mental health and get people to act on it.
Women are 25% more likely than men not to feel comfortable talking to coworkers about sensitive issues or problems at work and at home. Employers can offer mental health resources and support to employees, such as counseling services, employee assistance programs, and stress management workshops. They can also create a workplace culture that encourages open communication about mental health and well-being.
3. Provide resources for health and well-being
Employers can provide resources for reproductive health, such as paid parental leave and accommodations for breastfeeding. This can help women balance their work and personal responsibilities, leading to improved health and well-being. They can also provide resources for general physical health, such as wellness programs, gym memberships, and healthy food options. This can help women maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent chronic health conditions, leading to improved overall health and well-being. Employers can address the challenges faced by menstruating women by facilitating menstrual leave/rest days and providing supportive policies and accommodations, such as flexible work arrangements, access to menstrual products, and private spaces for managing menstrual symptoms. By doing so, employers can create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture that benefits everyone.
4. Address workplace stress and burnout
Employers can take steps to address workplace stress and burnout, such as offering flexible work arrangements, encouraging breaks and time off, and promoting work-life balance. This can help women better manage their workload and reduce stress, leading to improved mental and physical health. It's important for women employees who might think they would be seen as weak or unprofessional if they asked for help to hear from women leaders, especially those who talk about their own experiences.
5. Address gender bias and discrimination
Employers can address gender bias and discrimination in the workplace by providing training and education on these issues, implementing policies and procedures to prevent discrimination and harassment, and offering resources and support for women who experience discrimination or harassment.
6. Flexible work arrangements
Covid-19 has made it harder for employees to tell where work ends and home begins, and many feel like they are "always on." This is especially true for working mothers. In order to help working mothers avoid burnout and make the transition back to the workforce, a sustainable pace of work is crucial. Companies should look for ways to set clearer boundaries between work and life and provide flexible work options.
But even when workplace flexibility is offered, there may be a stigma around taking advantage of it. Organizations can make it easier for women employees to ask for help when they need it by having senior management talk openly about their commitment to employees' overall health and back up that talk with real actions. Even better, leaders can show how to set boundaries and take care of themselves in their own lives. This shows employees that it's OK to put health and wellness first.
Role of HR in Promoting Health and Wellness for Women in the Workplace
HR plays a critical role in promoting health and wellness for women in the workplace. HR can serve as an advocate for gender equity and ensure that company policies and practices are designed to support the health and well-being of all employees, including women.
Another way HR can help is by advocating for policies and benefits that support work-life balance, such as flexible work arrangements, paid family leave, and caregiving support. These policies can help women manage their personal and professional responsibilities, reducing stress and improving overall well-being.
HR can also play a role in addressing gender bias and discrimination in the workplace. They can develop and implement training programs to help managers and employees recognize and eliminate unconscious bias, and create opportunities for women to advance and excel in their careers.
In addition, HR can work with managers and employees to address mental health and burnout, providing resources and support to help women manage stress and maintain their well-being. They can also promote health and wellness initiatives, such as employee wellness programs and access to health resources and services.
Here’s How You Can Get Started!
Effecting change at a structural level is a huge endeavor, one that takes deliberate and prolonged effort and considerable time. But you must start somewhere. That’s the bottom line. To start acting, and to start acting now. Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Keep in mind that women have specific health and wellness needs, and a cookie-cutter approach that conflates the genders is unlikely to be effective.
- In order to guarantee that women's health issues are taken into account, it may be necessary to review and revamp policies and processes relating to things like sick leave, maternity leave, flexible scheduling, and health and safety.
- Managers need to be educated on the spectrum of health issues women confront and the extent to which each can affect their respective departments. This will make it possible for them to have conversations in which women feel safe bringing up any issues they may be experiencing.
- If you want to help women who are dealing with health problems or childcare issues, you might want to think about allowing them to work flexibly, work fewer hours, or work from home.
- When a senior leader is put in charge of employees' well-being, employees are more likely to be happy with their benefits.
- Pay all employees fairly and equally; this may not happen quickly, but there needs to be a plan in place to correct any observed pay inequalities between men and women.
- Share medical resources about the unique health concerns women face and the care that needs to be provided to them.
- Inform women about the various avenues of assistance they may pursue, including employee assistance programs, online medical care, and medical insurance.
- If you provide health screenings for employees, add testing tailored to genders.
- Find out from your female workers what kind of healthcare perks and assistance they would want.
The Way Forward
From the insidious effects of gender bias and discrimination to the overwhelming pressure of balancing personal and professional responsibilities, women often face unique and difficult health challenges at work. These challenges can lead to burnout, stress, and other mental and physical health issues that can impact their lives both inside and outside of work. Employers need to be deliberate, fair, and proactive to improve women's health and wellness on the job. In order to fulfill this promise, new ideas and adjustments must be made to existing procedures, regulations, and infrastructure.
Achieving health and wellness in the workplace will take time, but the first step towards creating a better working culture and a more inclusive economy is for businesses to collectively embrace women’s health and wellness as a core business focus. When they do, by taking these steps and many more, employers can help women thrive in the workplace and in their personal lives, leading to a more engaged and productive workforce.
On this International Women's Day, let’s pledge to support and empower women in the workplace and create a culture that values their health and well-being. Together, we can build a brighter future where women can thrive professionally and personally, free from the barriers that have held them back for too long.
Find out how Darwinbox can help you promote women’s health and wellness in your company, book a demo today!
Speak Your Mind