March 10, 2022
The business landscape and the world of work as a whole is changing. The past few years have made many employees re-evaluate their current situations and as a result are demanding more from their employers.
With International Women’s Day on 8th March and Mothering Sunday on 27th March we have a great opportunity to talk about the role of women in the workplace and how to recruit and retain female employees. In particular we are looking at how to support and reward women in the workplace.
In the past, employers have offered a range of incentives to attract top staff – great pensions, private healthcare and half day Fridays amongst some of the more popular. Whilst these incentives are still great for some people, employers are moving away from a one-size fits all approach. Farsighted and considerate employers are recognising that the support packages they offer their employees need to vary depending not only on the individual, but even where the individual is in their life. What may have attracted an employee at the start of their career might be very different as they get older.
When considering the female workforce, we are beginning to see leading employers recognising the challenges faced by women when it comes to bridging the gap between work and home life. In the past, the message for women was that showing vulnerability of any kind would somehow hinder them in their professional life. For many years now we have been told to leave our personal lives at the door. But it simply doesn’t work like that. And that is particularly relevant for women who face personal challenges that simply cannot be separated from work, notably when it comes to health. With women accounting for 60% of the global/UK workforce and increasing as the years go on, this has never been more important.
So what can we do to help attract women to work and retain them? At Cream HR we advise our clients to look at the support they offer their staff around miscarriage, fertility and menopause.
A staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, a number hard to imagine. And yet most business still provide little to no support for women, and men, facing this loss.
Although this is challenging to write, from personal experience I really feel that providing appropriate support around a miscarriage can be beneficial to businesses and employees alike. This means providing a supportive environment that adapts to the situation faced by those involved.
Last March I experienced a miscarriage at 12 weeks. It was one of the most challenging times of my life. I was at the stage of being about to share the news with my colleagues, family, and friends and instead I was telling them I had lost my baby. I then experienced further complications and more time in hospital. In simple terms, I was not in the best place. Whilst the miscarriage alone was physically and mentally challenging, I had the additional worry of how I would keep up to date with both my family and professional life.
I was one of the fortunate ones during this time to have an incredibly supportive employer and working environment at Cream HR. I was allowed the time I needed to get well, be there for the rest of my family and given the time to get the help and support I needed.
Now almost a year on it I still have challenges around what happened. But the support I was given from work has made me even more committed and loyal to the business, more engaged in the work we do and more keen to support the growth of the business. I am also more committed to my own personal development. Simply put, I work harder knowing I am working in an environment that I enjoy being in and feel cared for in. The fact that my colleague had a similar experience of her own just over a year before and shared this with me means as a team we have grown stronger together.
Without the support given by Cream HR I’m not sure how I would have coped, it may well have resulted in me having to leave the company. The support I did receive means more to me than any arbitrary pay rise.
The challenges around miscarriage are great. Women often feel they can’t tell their employer because it might signal an intention to be pregnant in the future and this could lead to different treatment. Miscarriage is rarely recognised as deserving of compassionate leave despite the fact that it is a loss. My colleague who lost her baby at 8 weeks was offered to take the baby home following surgery. Grief and depression can strike at any time, a colleague having a baby, the due date approaching or something insignificant and unexpected.
We encourage employers to consider how they treat their employees who suffer pregnancy loss. Review your policies, consider a miscarriage policy or incorporating it under special leave. Talk to your employees and encourage openness. Provide a safe environment where employees can share their feelings without fear of consequences. Offer access to support services and signpost employees to eternal providers and charities.
If you feel your business would like to be more involved you can also register your pledge via the Miscarriage Association.
When you consider the staggering statistics surrounding miscarriage, then the figures around the menopause should be even more shocking! It is estimated that around 13 million women in the UK workforce are perimenopausal or menopausal. The effects of this range from discomfort to severely limiting, and can affect people physically as well as mentally. Research suggests one million women are considering quitting work as a result of the lack of menopause support.
Once again, this support will look completely different for each person. Perhaps offering a flexible working pattern, enhanced sick pay or even a sabbatical leave to allow women to take a break from work without having to leave all together. The most important thing is to create an open and safe environment where people feel comfortable talking about how they are feeling. Let’s not forget that these women are the employees with the most experience in the company. If you lose them you lose the hard work and investment you have put in in terms of training and culture. So businesses are well-advised to consider how they can retain this critical part of their workforce.
Another issue faced by women (and men) is challenges surrounding fertility. In fact, according to the Fertility Network Survey a recent study found that 38% of employees had considered leaving a business due to the lack of fertility support. For those suffering from fertility issues, 91% experienced feelings of anxiety, 89% experience stress and 88% suffered from depression. This alone shows how debilitating going through fertility issues can be. How could these issues possibly be left at the door.
As a result, fertility support is gradually becoming more commonplace. A number of businesses are offering employees time off to attend fertility treatment appointments in exactly the same way as they offer employees the right to attend antenatal appointments. There are businesses that are going a step further and offering financial support to employees wishing to access fertility services.
Who is already leading the way?
Kellogg’s have moved forward with supporting their 1,500 strong team from across the UK with more support surrounding Miscarriage, Fertility and Menopause Leave. This will include paid leave for those undergoing fertility treatment or those who experience a pregnancy loss. They will also be training their managers on how to have discussions around the menopause and its effects on work. They have stated that they want their staff to feel ‘Psychologically Safe’ at work.
I am also excited to see that ASOS are making similar changes and providing 10 days’ paid leave for those suffering a pregnancy loss and 5 days’ paid leave per cycle for those who need to attend fertility appointments. They also want to allow more flexibility for employees going through the menopause by allowing time off at short notice.
Tesco have recently been involved in setting up pilot menopause support groups. And Nottinghamshire Police are one of the first in the country to set up a menopause policy which includes flexible working and lighter weight uniforms.
I am so pleased to see more and more businesses giving employees other leave for those life experiences such as miscarriage, fertility treatment and menopause. It will help to create a hardworking and motivated team who want to do their very best by you as you have them. We look forward to seeing how other business follow this, especially with some of the larger names out there leading the way.
It is clear throughout this article that the key thing any employer can do is create a safe environment. Until you have been through the challenges faced by some of your colleagues you simply cannot understand how they might be suffering. So ask, listen and encourage colleagues to talk to you, share their challenges and work with them to provide flexible support that suits their needs. And if my experience is anything to go by, your employee will repay you over and over with loyalty and productivity.
Written by Gemma Thayre
We deal with employee issues so you can deal with what you do best