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17th Apr 2024

A quarter of women have been pressured to return to work early after health issues

Anna Martin

women health workplace

New research has shown that a quarter of women have been “shamed” into returning to work after illness

While we have been fed the idea time and time again that we shouldn’t have to choose between our health and our employment status, we all know that more often than not it is a call that has to be made.

New research from the women’s health start-up frendo found that a quarter of women working in UK offices say they have been shamed or pressured to return to work early after taking an absence due to health issues.

The poll of 1,250 women aged 25-55 revealed more than a quarter (28%) felt their company culture was not open when it came to discussing health conditions.

Another 27% said their employer was not open to making allowances for health issues.

One in seven said they had experienced discrimination in the workplace because of their health conditions, such as being overlooked for promotions or excluded from team activities.

On top of this, many of those experiencing these issues also found it hard to speak up and make their needs known.

For instance, two in five of those who had been discriminated against (42%) did not vocalise their concerns to the staff who were placing them at a disadvantage, and the same proportion did not tell their HR department.

women health workplace
Credit: Canva

A third of the women polled said they would feel uncomfortable talking about chronic health issues with a male manager, rising to 63% if the issue was in relation to fertility or menstrual problems.

These figures fell to 16% and 22% respectively when talking to a female manager.

While 24% of office-based workplaces did provide an employee support network for people experiencing fertility issues and menstrual problems, there was still very little specific support in the workplace for other women’s health conditions, such as endometriosis, the report concluded.

Though many companies have moved towards more flexible working arrangements such as the hybrid system, more needs to be done to allow women to prioritise their health. 

It was announced last August that there was a plan to commission new research on the impacts of menstruation and menopause in the workplace, but nothing has come of it yet.

The plan, which was announced by Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman, was to look at factors regarding working conditions to support employees experiencing menopause and menstrual symptoms in the workplace.

The goal was to see what effective support mechanisms employers have put in place that are recognised as good practice, which can be rolled out throughout the country.