Promoting a healthy work/life balance and minimising financial concern among employees can have huge wellbeing benefits for employers.
Here at Salary Finance, we help employers to promote mental and financial fitness at work, with the aim of providing employees with positive feelings of happiness and stability.
But how does being a woman affect things? We wanted to discover in more depth how wellbeing at work is impacted by being female, so carried out a survey among employers and employees to find out more.
Are times changing enough?
With a huge emphasis in today’s culture to bridge the gaps between the way men and women are treated in the workplace, big shifts are already in place. That said, there is still a long way to go.
Almost half (47%) of the women we surveyed agree that they are now treated as equals to male colleagues in similar roles. But this means that over half of the female population still do not feel this equality.
It is the responsibility of every employer to make sure they address the issues surrounding women’s wellbeing and equality, but currently only a third of women feel that their employer is making an effort to improve the workplace to better cater for their needs.
In terms of outdated gender-specific dress codes that also need addressing, 61% of women do not agree that they should have to wear heeled shoes, 48% don’t feel they should be pressurised to wear makeup, and 46% disagree with being asked to wear a skirt or dress to carry out their role.
As part of the research for our Financial Wellbeing Guide, which surveyed more than 10,000 UK employees, we found that women have higher levels of financial worry and lower “financial fitness scores” compared to men.
We found that money and finance are the largest cause of worry, above relationships, health and career. Our survey found that women worry about money more than men (43% versus 36%). When it came to “financial fitness scores” – a measurable way to assess employee financial wellbeing, looking at answers to 10 behavioural questions concerning their spending, saving and borrowing habits – the average for men was 3.3 out of 5, whereas the average for women was 3.
Pregnancy and heading back to work
Although pregnancy is exciting and wonderful, it can also be uncomfortable for many women – especially during the summer months. 20% of the women we surveyed said they have had discomfort due to pregnancy while at work, with 18% of them finding their symptoms particularly painful.
We also found that taking a career break once the child is born can be a source of worry and anxiety. Almost a quarter (24%) of women experienced reduced financial security, while 23% were faced with a reduced salary (against their expectations). 21% said that they were faced with judgement from men in the workplace on their return, 1 in 5 felt a reduced feeling of job security, and 19% felt that they had stunted career progression on their return.
In terms of disparities across sectors, those working in business, consulting and management are most concerned about stunted career progression, while 77% of those working in environment and agriculture are shocked by reduced salaries in comparison to their expectations.
Half of women in hospitality and events management are worried about judgement from male colleagues and 55% of law enforcement or security workers suffer a reduced feeling of financial security. In recruitment and HR, females feel a lack of flexibility, and those returning to jobs in science and pharmaceuticals felt their role had significantly changed upon returning to work.
These stats highlight a need for businesses – and HR departments in particular – to support pregnant women in the workplace; addressing financial concerns relating to maternity leave; and helping mothers re-integrate more smoothly when they return to work.
Sarah Aubrey, CEO at DPG, said: “Negotiating work both during and after pregnancy can be a difficult issue. When navigating this often-challenging time, it’s important to be aware of your rights, and be comfortable in addressing these with your employer.”
She added that it’s essential to know what women are legally entitled to when they return after maternity leave: “When it comes to getting back into the workplace, be prepared to negotiate for an arrangement that suits you. English, Scottish and Welsh employees have a legal right to request flexible working. Your employers do not have to approve your request, but they must handle it in a reasonable manner and explain their decision if they refuse.”
Miscarriage and heading back to work
Kate Palmer, Peninsula Associate Director of Advisory, commented on the topic of helping employees that unfortunately experience miscarriage during their pregnancy: “If an employee suffers a miscarriage after 24 weeks into her pregnancy, she has the right to take any statutory maternity leave and pay that she was originally entitled to. However, if the miscarriage occurs before the 24-week point, the employee will no longer be entitled to take maternity leave or pay so the company’s usual sickness absence procedure can be used to deal with any time away from work the employee takes. This includes providing the employee with statutory sick pay (SSP) or any contractual sick pay that is usually offered.
Martine Robins, Director at HR Dept, added: “Most employers will work with the maternity based provisions if faced with miscarriage, but the obvious sensitivities involved can sometimes make this feel almost mechanistic in terms of an approach. The practical aspects need to be considered, such as how much time does an employee need to deal with what has happened, taking into account that there may be physical as well as psychological effects, as well as considering compassionate or bereavement leave”.
Time of the month
Period pain is an annoying and painful side effect of a woman’s monthly cycle, which can have negative effects on daily life. According to our poll, 88% of working women have experienced some sort of gender-related pain while at work. 58% of women have suffered with period pain while at work, while 36% claimed severe period pain while trying to carry out their job. On average, 8.5 working days are affected each month due to period-related issues.
Both in the build-up to and during their period, women can experience a whole range of symptoms. Upon further investigation of these, we found that the most common symptoms suffered at work were feeling uncomfortable (42%), irritable (36%) and anxious (33%).
Obviously, all these things can have a detrimental effect on motivation at work, with 14% of women feeling overwhelmed and 12% feeling unfocused. 36% of those surveyed said their work rate decreases when on their period, 12% of which said the affect was significant!
When it comes to periods and having appropriate facilities at work, do employers step up to the mark? 39% of employees agree that facilities at their place of employment are satisfactory, while 13% found them to be below adequate standards. When it comes to unsatisfactory women’s facilities, the worst-offending sectors were science and pharmaceuticals (33%), engineering and manufacturing (28%) and law (25%). Perhaps these industries should be the first to address the situation with serious consideration.
As well as better facilities, there seems to be a call for free sanitary products, too. With 11% of women claiming to have experienced some form of ‘period poverty’ in the past with over a quarter (28%) of females stating that wish that their workplace would provide free sanitary products as a part of the benefits package.
For those women who have perhaps experienced period problems and then pregnancy issues at work, there is yet another stage of life to consider down the line: menopause.
Although there is less social emphasis on this natural occurrence, it can often come with even greater health issues and physiological stress. Common symptoms include hot flushes, problems sleeping, low mood and anxiety. Memory and concentration can also be affected in some women. When it comes to admitting their symptoms, 22% of women who responded to our survey admitted that they had experienced menopausal side effects while at work.
Michael McNally, Employment Law Solicitor at Warners Solicitors, said: “While there are clearly defined regulations surrounding the pregnancy and maternity rights of employees – including paid time off for antenatal appointments and protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal – there has been little discussion around other gender-specific issues, such as periods and menopause, even though a failure by the employer to make allowances could probably amount to unlawful discrimination.”
Kate Palmer added: “Although the menopause is technically not a disability, symptoms of it can give rise to conditions that are protected by equality law. Employers should therefore be prepared to make adjustments to the working day that can assist an employee who is experiencing the effects of the menopause. This could include repositioning their working space taking into account temperature or toilet access, providing access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for counselling services in case her condition is affecting her mental health and making allowances for sickness absence.”
Things are changing, however. Michael added: “More and more employers are starting to put into place policies and practices that can help employees have open conversations with their line managers and seek help and support to deal with their symptoms.”
HR’s approach to female wellbeing?
According to our poll, 72% of line managers and HR professionals believe that the company they work for cater very well to women’s specific needs and wellbeing at work. Ensuring fair treatment and having consistency across all genders, ensuring equal pay and equal opportunities, flexibility, family friendly policies, and having access to employee assistance programmes were all recurring considerations that were noted.
Recent ONS data suggests that the gender pay gap is 8.6 per cent among full-time employees. Speaking on equal pay, Vanessa Bell, Prettys’ Head of Construction Law, commented on the gender pay gap: “Reporting has raised the profile of the fact that we have a society that, for whatever reason, pays women less than men: we always suspected that to be the case, and all think it’s wrong, but now there is concrete evidence of that fact and so we can start to do something about it. It will be interesting to see how the campaign for ethnicity pay gap reporting develops over the next few years and the effect that this will have on attitudes to pay.”
“I am sure that we will also see changes with other gender-specific issues at work: maternity benefits are increasingly becoming a way of attracting and retaining the best talent, and this of course only works if employers follow through in ensuring that flexible working is genuinely available, and that career development takes into account the specific characteristics of women and minority groups as well. I think it is interesting that we are now seeing more visibility to female-specific issues in the workplace: whilst there have not been many high-profile initiatives, there is now an open debate as to the extent to which workplaces need to address the menopause, for example.”
The importance of employer intervention
Our study has highlighted some serious discrepancies in the way that women feel they are treated at work and the support they are given when going through times of discomfort or mental imbalance.
From installing better facilities for women to benefit from during their periods, to re-addressing maternity leave packages and offering an open culture to discuss female concerns, employers have an opportunity to address women’s wellbeing issues head-on and have a significant, positive effect on employee wellbeing.