` Why gender-specific support should be on your wellbeing agenda for 2022 | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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20 Jan 2022
by Marina Gask

Why gender-specific support should be on your wellbeing agenda for 2022

In today’s world of work, generalised health and wellbeing policies are no longer cutting it. If gender-specific support isn’t yet on your radar, it’s clearly time for change.




Companies need to offer their people specific and realistic support, from fertility to menopause, from encouraging mental health to helping prevent serious physical health issues. To become an employer of choice, a company must offer gender-specific health support for their people in 2022.

The culture has changed

The Covid-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the way people feel about work. Working from home and hybrid working are, in many cases, here to stay.

According to Slack’s Future Forum, 72% of us want a hybrid remote-office future. Living to work is no longer an option and family life, childcare issues, mental health and overall wellbeing all need to be incorporated into healthcare policies to attract and retain good staff.

The need for specific support can no longer be overlooked. Kathy Abernethy, director of menopause services at Peppy and past chair of the British Menopause Society, said: “HR teams need to look at groups within their workforce and address the issues they might be dealing with, like how many women are on the workforce and how likely they are to be going through the menopause while working.

“We need to recognise the statistics when it comes to menopausal women struggling through difficult symptoms without appropriate help and understanding”. The same applies for health problems their male staff may be enduring, from mental health to weight to prostate issues.

Staff need to feel understood

Your workforce needs to know that if they're talking about personal issues, there is the facility for them to do so confidentially and comfortably.

Gender-specific healthcare is about tailoring services and communications to the individual, offering empathetic, personalised support for common problems. For men’s health, this is doubly important.

Why? Because men visit the GP 50% less than women. “Some health campaigns don’t speak to men,” said Helen Lake, director and clinical lead of men’s health services at Peppy. “The content and wording should be tailor-made for men, so they can own it and relate to it.”

Messaging needs to be gender specific to make it easier for staff to talk about personal issues. “A lot of men’s health involves urinary issues, testicles, erectile dysfunction and so on. It’s very difficult for men to come forward for support with such personal stuff,” Lake said. But if they could do so anonymously, if they had their own dedicated means of accessing information, this could change.

Talent attraction and retention is key

The race for talent is on, and retaining good people is a real issue for HR teams. Providing specialist workplace benefits that support employees through difficult life transitions such as menopause, fertility and early parenthood – issues not traditionally covered by private medical insurance – has a huge impact on productivity, absenteeism and retention.

In 2022, being an employer of choice goes beyond work perks and salary – it’s necessary for employers to give employees specialist, confidential expert help when they need it.

Whether it's fertility, pregnancy, child rearing or menopause that they’re dealing with, if women are not supported at work or haven’t been able to have the right conversations with their employers, they may just leave. Studies have shown that one in four women going through the menopause consider leaving their job due to symptoms, while 88% of employees would move job for better fertility benefits.

More and more, the same could be said for men and LGBTQ+ employees who feel unsupported or overlooked in their place of work.

It's important that employers take action to support their people in these areas – a policy is just the first step – so people know where to turn for help. Raising awareness and listening to individual needs is essential, as is giving managers guidance to have these conversations confidently with team members. Creating an open, inclusive culture gives organisations the edge.

Benefits must benefit the whole workforce

The days of health insurance that only applies to the most senior staff are on their way out. Health benefits need to be extended to all demographic groups and levels of seniority.

Similarly, adjustments to the workplace for the benefit of one gender will often be good for everybody. Abernethy said: “If, for example, menopausal women are asking for toilet breaks and flexible working, those adjustments benefit male staff too. The same goes for changes to the temperature in a stuffy office. There isn’t anything specific to menopause that wouldn’t actually benefit the whole workforce”.

Of course, support often needs to be gender specific and, in many cases, it makes sense for it to be so.
Employers need to provide the right services alongside the gender-specific framework, giving access to professionals, charities and services under their medical plan, ensuring that digital support is made available and communicated effectively. And providing mental health support across the board is essential.

Gender-specific must be gender-inclusive

Gender-specific is not as black and white as male and female. To encourage diversity and inclusion, forward-thinking organisations must break down outdated gender norms and think of gender as a more fluid construct.

“It’s vital that LBGT+ staff are included. This is often the group that gets left out when things are done by gender, making support sometimes difficult to access. If a form of care is labelled for men it’s difficult to access it if you're not identifying as a man, even if it’s medically relevant to you,” said Abernethy.

This is a group that cannot be ignored. Unless support is explicitly inclusive, staff who don’t identify as any gender will feel excluded. Abernethy added: “Health support needs to be specific but inclusive. If you’re outwardly a man but have a cervix, you still need to be invited to smear tests. This needs to be taken into account when drawing up gender-specific policies.”

The author is Marina Gask, copywriter for Peppy.

This article is provided by Peppy.

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