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20 Oct 2022

Why health policies and benefits must be gender-specific

Serious and widespread health issues are often not appropriately addressed, with office taboos compounding the issue

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A healthy workforce is a productive one, so the specifics of women’s and men’s health are fast becoming key areas that employers need to address in their health and wellbeing policies and benefits programmes.

Far too many serious and widespread health issues are often not appropriately addressed. The statistics are shocking: one in five male employees die before retirement, while only 50% of working men will visit the GP. And while 85% of working age women have experienced at least four health conditions, 65% turn to the internet as their primary source of help with health concerns.

Difficulties and delays in accessing appropriate local NHS healthcare mean that effective workplace support is needed so that men, women, trans and non-binary staff receive advice and help to improve their health and wellbeing – and in turn feel valued by their employer.

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The issues with women’s health

Apart from universal health issues there are, of course, specific ones facing women, relating to the reproductive cycle, from menstruation problems and menopause, to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis.

Despite undeniable improvements, women’s health is still taboo, with subjects like ‘period pains’ not traditionally talked about in the workplace.

“Around 80% of women experience period pain, while up to 75% of menstruating women experience PMS, which can have a serious impact on emotions,” says Francesca Steyn, director of fertility and women’s health services at Peppy. And transgender men and non-binary people are also affected.

“Furthermore, women’s health issues can be quite complex and often go undiagnosed. Endometriosis takes on average 7.5  years to be diagnosed” says Steyn.

“Introduce specialist, flexible support for women’s health issues, making it inclusive to all who menstruate and confidential.”

She says there should be policies in place for menopause and for dealing with events like miscarriage. “We are seeing many companies introducing period policies - which have been said to contribute to better employee retention, improved working relations and increased productivity,” says Steyn.

“Benefits should also be personalised and empathetic and support needs to be accessible, so women don’t turn to the internet for answers.”

The issues with men’s health

“From sexual health problems like erectile dysfunction, and prostate and testicular issues, to mental health, heart conditions and low testosterone, male staff need confidential support that speaks to them,” says Helen Lake, director and clinical lead of men’s health services at Peppy.

Men can feel too embarrassed to open up about health issues. “A lot of men’s health involves urinary issues – testicles, erectile disfunction and so on. It’s difficult for men to come forward for support with such personal stuff,” says Lake.

And while there’s a huge crisis in men’s mental health, they may struggle to talk openly about it. “This means they can put off going for treatment and accessing healthcare, sadly often leaving it too late," says Lake.

“Research shows that men do worry about their health but don’t know how to access help because health campaigns don’t speak to them. Tailor-made content for men, written in a way they can relate to, is more likely to reach your target. Benefits also need to be accessible confidentially to make it easy for men to open up about their issues discreetly.”

Policies are the first step

It’s encouraging to see a whole range of companies launching policies for menopause, fertility and miscarriage, health issues that were previously ignored, glossed over or considered taboo.

A workforce needs to know, clearly and effectively, how to access the support available and policies need to be inclusive of any gender identification. A fertility policy, for example, should be inclusive of men, women, trans and non-binary partners and menopause support should not only be targeted at women, but all staff who may experience a menstrual cycle.

Meaningful benefits are what’s really needed

Specialist workplace benefits that support the health and wellbeing of your employees can have a positive impact on productivity, absenteeism and retention. If women are not supported at work around life issues like menopause and pregnancy, they may leave. And this is increasingly the case for men and LGBTQ+ employees who feel unsupported in the workplace.

For employee benefits to be truly effective, creating a happier and more productive workforce and preventing attrition, they need to be gender-specific and communicated in the right way to affected groups. Accessibility outside working hours, discretion and confidentiality are essential, with a dedicated means of accessing information.

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