Women’s wellbeing – are we hitting the mark?

Pam Loch

Over the last 40 years we have seen a continual increase in the percentage of women in employment. This achievement is, in part, thanks to societal and government led campaigns and initiatives to get women back into the workplace after having children.

However, this increase, twinned with the fact that we are an ageing population and working much later in life, creates some interesting challenges around women’s health and wellbeing in the workplace. 

It’s no secret that women experience some rather complex life transitional stages, namely menstrual health, fertility issues and perimenopause and menopause, each presenting physical, emotional and psychological challenges. It should then be no surprise that recognising and responding to these challenges is fast becoming a critical focus for business leaders striving to foster a high-performing work environment. 

Understanding the legal framework around these issues is an important starting point to ensure businesses are not only compliant with their legal obligations but protected against potential claims (and particularly given the fact that there has been a 75% increase in Employment Tribunals citing menopause-related issues, we should really be making this top of the business agenda). 

But should we not be taking this even further to benefit everyone? Surely there is a societal contract to create a workplace that goes over and above the legal minimum, that places these issues at the heart of business to strive to engage, empower and enable the female workforce to not just cope with their situation but try to thrive through it? 

Understanding women’s health


Menopause is a transformative experience that brings about physical, psychological and emotional changes for those going through it. Common symptoms include hot flushes, mood swings and joint pain, but there are thought to be at least 40 potential symptoms which can change over time, making them difficult to manage and often leading to misdiagnosis. 

The transition, which lasts on average between four and seven years, can have a debilitating impact, hindering an individual’s ability to enjoy daily life, maintain relationships and perform optimally at work. Indeed, the psychological impact of this life stage is the one most likely to create the biggest work hurdle but also negatively impact businesses too.

Maternity and Fertility

Another key element of women’s health and wellbeing in the workplace is the maternity and fertility minefield. Around 17.5% of the adult population – roughly 1 in 6 worldwide – experience infertility (WHO) and given the likely age range of those seeking treatment, that’s a significant proportion of our workforce.

Fertility Network UK has acknowledged that over 3.5 million people in the UK go through some kind of fertility challenge, a deeply emotional and, for some, traumatic life experience. From the practical perspective, the nature of fertility treatment (being linked to the female menstrual cycle) means appointments are often scheduled at short notice, creating a direct impact on a women’s working life and schedule.

Menstrual health

We also need to consider potentially still one of the biggest taboo topics in the workplace – periods.

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It’s perhaps unsurprising that a recent survey by HR Zone found that a third of male workers believed it is unprofessional to talk about menstrual health at work, despite the fact that 1 in 3 women describe their periods as heavy. 

While for some, periods are simply a monthly annoyance, for others, the physical and behavioural impact of the menstrual cycle can be so severe it leads to performance dips in the workplace – which can then become more severe during perimenopause. Many women suffer in silence, ‘soldiering on’, all the while their performance and engagement at work steadily declines.

The legal playground

So, what does this look like? What rights do employees have and what does an employer need to do to ensure they are legally compliant?

The short answer, at first look, is not a lot. 

At present, there is no single piece of legislation that is applicable to menstrual health, fertility and/or menopause. An organisation has no legal obligation to allow time off for fertility appointments and there’s certainly no such thing as ‘menstrual leave’ in England and Wales. 

However, other countries are taking another perspective on this. Perhaps they are being more long-sighted from a business perspective, recognising the benefits that can be achieved from taking a different approach?

Whilst the UK Government recently rejected calls from the Women and Equalities Committee to make menopause a standalone protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, businesses need to be aware that employees who are mistreated by their employer in connection with menopause, menstrual health or fertility treatment, can bring claims under that legislation.

Cases have been brought, and upheld, against organisations who haven’t created the right environment for their female workforce, with the Equality Act 2010 being successfully applied in several cases citing harassment and discrimination on the grounds of gender, age and disability. 

With regard to fertility issues, while the law doesn’t, at present, allow employees time off for treatment and appointments, this could be about to change. A Private Members Bill was brought forward in November 2022 which would make it a legal requirement to enable employees to have time off for fertility appointments and connected purposes. This Bill is currently at second stage reading in the House of Commons and one that employers need to be aware of and ready to implement.

In addition, it’s vital to remember that if an employee becomes pregnant though fertility treatment, they have all the same pregnancy and maternity rights as other pregnancies -and an employee is still protected by law against pregnancy discrimination for two weeks after finding out that an embryo transfer was unsuccessful.

The female future

Is being legally compliant enough? Should we instead be exploring the idea of a societal contract – a contract between employees and employers that actually benefits the business interests and the employee, placed at the heart of the organisation? What would that look like? 

Maybe it would involve menopause mentors – individuals throughout an organisation who can spot struggling employees, signposting to help and, perhaps most importantly, be a confidant. What about wellbeing champions who are charged with supporting and speaking up for specific areas of wellbeing for both men and women? Perhaps the answer lies in awareness campaigns that breakdown the stigma around things like menstrual health, infertility and menopause through lunchtime seminars and staff workshops or even simply awareness posters that show your workforce you recognise and understand the complex emotions and challenges women’s health and wellbeing can create.

By providing your female staff members with proactive support and a safe working environment you’re not only likely to be legally compliant, you’re also likely to experience benefits where talent attraction and staff retention are concerned. Staff who feel safe and secure at work are much less likely to look elsewhere and you can build a reputation as an organisation that empowers and advances its workforce which is only likely to bolster your employee value proposition. We need to remember that women’s wellbeing is not just about the impact on the person you employ but also on the people around them. Doing business this way is sure to bring about whole business benefit. 

Small interventions can have a significant impact. They demonstrate how seriously an employer takes the challenges to health and wellbeing employees face and opens the dialogue to help reduce and remove any remnants of taboo and stigma. The result? Happier staff, empowered to perform at the best of their potential and take your organisation to the next level.

The future seems to be in our hands, and as we raise our next working generation, let’s ensure they enter a workplace that is not just compliant, but a workplace that understands, empathises and really empowers women and the complex creatures we are, so our entire workforce can benefit. 

To hear more about our view on women’s wellbeing in the workplace please join us at our WaterCooler workshop where we will be joining forces with Myla Health to consider not only the legal landscape but the clinical and HR framework around women’s health and wellbeing.

About the author:

Pam Loch is Solicitor and Managing Director at Loch Associates Group. Pam set up Loch Associates Group in 2007 to respond to the need for commercial and bespoke legal and people solutions for clients. She has continued to evolve the business to respond to client needs and is now proud to have services offering solutions in all elements of HR, employment and business law. 

As well as being the Managing Director of Loch Associates Group, Pam has also been a specialist, award-winning employment law solicitor for over 20 years and is a dual qualified solicitor, having qualified as a solicitor in 2000 in Scotland and England & Wales.

Loch Associates Group will be running a workshop at The Watercooler event on 23rd April from 15.00 – 15.45 entitled “Women’s Wellbeing at Work – understanding the connection between law and clinical health“. You can find out more and register to free to attend here.

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