Three-quarters of women experience health problems at work, but line managers aren’t trained to support them 

The majority of women in the workplace have experienced health problems at work (74 percent) yet there is a lack of support available to help them, according to new data from Simplyhealth. In the new research, women reported generally higher rates of being affected by health issues than men in the workplace, with around four-in-ten (37 percent) reporting experiencing anxiety last year compared to just 26 percent of men. Women were also twice as likely to report having migraines (20 percent, compared to just 10 percent of men) and more women reported experiencing back pain (29 percent vs 25 percent) and muscle pain (18 percent vs 14 percent) than men.?

A significant number of women are bringing their health issues to the attention of their managers (over half of line managers reported this [54 percent] yet over a third [34 percent] said they don’t think their manager takes their health problems in the workplace seriously).

The Equalities Act 2010 states that employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs. Yet the research suggests that line managers, often the first in line when health problems arise, don’t feel equipped to offer adequate support.

Currently almost half (46 percent) of managers say they haven’t had any training to support employees with their health issues.??Four-in-ten managers (39 percent) say they don’t know how to signpost people they manage to any health benefits offered by the company and a third (33 percent) of managers said they don’t think it’s their responsibility to support with workplace health problems.

To enable better support for women in the workplace, Simplyhealth has released a guide for line managers to have comfortable conversations with their staff about some of the most common women’s health issues, from breast and ovarian cancer to fertility, menopause and menstruation and mental health.  The guide is informed by Simplyhealth’s in-house clinicians and its new Women’s Health Charity Alliance, which has been supported by a £100,000 donation from the healthcare provider and includes Bloody Good Period, Miscarriage Association, Ovarian Cancer Action and Domestic Abuse Volunteer Support Services (DAVSS).

Advice includes:

  • Best practice for conversations around stress, depression and anxiety – ensuring managers don’t minimise how serious these health conditions are by suggesting everyone feels low sometimes.
  • How to support someone undergoing a cancer diagnosis – avoiding emotional language or comparisons with others when supporting an employee talking about a cancer diagnosis.
  • When to consider company policy to help those with menstrual health conditions – offering practical measures such as flexible working and in the long-term working with the company to provide accessible period products, accommodate toilet breaks or revise dress code.