A recent study by women’s health startup frendo has uncovered alarming statistics revealing that a quarter of women in UK offices feel pressured or shamed into returning to work prematurely after health-related absences. These findings shed light on the pervasive obstacles faced by women in the workplace when dealing with health issues, indicating a significant lack of support and understanding from employers.

The release of this research coincides with the British government’s active encouragement for employers to prioritize employee health and well-being to reduce absenteeism and foster inclusive work environments. Despite increased awareness surrounding issues like menopause, other prevalent female health conditions, such as endometriosis, often remain stigmatized and overlooked in workplace discussions.

Endometriosis, a chronic condition affecting one in ten women, is frequently unrecognized and unsupported in professional settings. The study indicates that over a quarter of women feel their company culture does not facilitate discussions about health conditions, with many reporting a lack of willingness from employers to accommodate their health needs.

Startlingly, one in seven women admit to experiencing discrimination in the workplace due to their health, ranging from being passed over for promotions to exclusion from team activities. These revelations highlight the urgent need for a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture that prioritizes the health and well-being of all employees.

Dearbhail Ormond, the founder of frendo, has personally experienced discrimination in the workplace. Her firsthand experience underscores the broader systemic challenges that women encounter when navigating health issues in professional settings. She shares: “I have first-hand experience of being pressured into returning to work after one of my endo surgeries. In a previous senior leadership role, I accepted a WFH support programme so I could return to work faster. However, this commitment and dedication were not recognised by my employer as I was made redundant shortly after.”

“Unfortunately, there is still too much stigma and shame attached to female health issues,and a lack of openness and understanding in the workplace leaves many women feeling pressured or shamed when taking time off due to ill health and unable to speak out if they are being discriminated against. Without the right support, chronic conditions such as endometriosis can prevent women from reaching their full potential in the workplace, not only affecting the employee but also the employer’s bottom line as a result of absenteeism or loss of productivity. With more education, employers can be in a better position to support and retain staff by helping them access the tools they need to manage their health alongside their career.”

Moreover, gender dynamics in the workplace further exacerbate the issue, with many women feeling uncomfortable discussing chronic health issues with male managers, particularly those related to fertility or menstruation. This discomfort underscores the need for more female representation in leadership positions to foster greater empathy and understanding.

In response to these challenges, frendo has launched frendo@work, a workplace support program specifically designed to address the needs of individuals with endometriosis. By providing employers with the necessary resources and support, frendo@work hopes to promote health equity in businesses while empowering women to manage their health alongside their careers.

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