Quarter of Women Pressured to Return to work early from Health Leave

New research conducted by the women's health startup frendo reveals that 25% of women employed in UK offices have felt shamed or pressured into returning early from health-related leave.

Amidst growing governmental pressure on employers to enhance workplace health and reduce absenteeism, discussions on employee health issues are becoming increasingly common.

While there's growing recognition of menopause and its impact on women in the workplace, other female health conditions, such as endometriosis—which affects one in ten women – continue to be stigmatised.

Consequently, 28% of women report a lack of openness within their company culture regarding health issues, and 27% feel their employers are reluctant to accommodate health-related needs.

Furthermore, 14% of women have faced workplace discrimination linked to their health, impacting their career progression and inclusion in team dynamics.

Dearbhail Ormond, the founder of frendo, personally experienced workplace discrimination, losing her job upon returning from surgery for endometriosis.

The silence around such discrimination is notable, with 42% of affected women choosing not to report their experiences to superiors or HR departments.

A significant number of women – 33% – would feel uncomfortable discussing chronic health issues with a male manager, a figure that increases to 63% for fertility or menstrual concerns. These percentages decrease to 16% and 22%, respectively, when the manager is female.

Despite 24% of office environments offering support networks for fertility and menstrual issues, support for other women's health conditions remains scarce.

In response, frendo has introduced frendo@work, a pioneering support programme for endometriosis in the workplace, designed to enhance health equity by equipping employers with the necessary resources to support their staff effectively. This initiative also aims to assist those suffering from endometriosis in managing their condition alongside their professional lives.

The importance of healthcare benefits is on the rise in terms of staff recruitment and retention, with 73% of women stating such benefits are crucial when considering a new position, and 77% believing these perks have become more significant over the past five years.

Dearbhail Ormond, Founder & CEO of frendo, comments: “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.”