According to Public Health England (2018), a third of women in England are suffering from severe reproductive health problems. This includes endometriosis, infertility and the menopause; all conditions which can cause particular difficulties at work. With women representing just under half (46.5% in 2017) of the total labour force in the UK (The World Bank, 2017), reproductive health is an issue which needs considering.
The effects of reproductive health conditions can have a significant impact on women’s mental health. For example fertility issues, and its treatment, are likely to be a considerable source of stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, Fertility Network UK (2016) found 90% of infertile women regularly experience feelings of depression, which negatively influences their overall health (Grimshaw, 1999; Cousineau et al., 2007). This contributes to it being a common cause of long-term sickness and the second most common cause of short term absence (CIPD, 2016).
In addition, common side effects of menopause, such as hot flushes and night time sweats, can be especially challenging and cause significant distress (Griffiths et al., 2010). Approximately 20-25% of women experience these symptoms, to the extent that it greatly affects their perceived quality of life (Chief Medical Officer, 2014).
Staff retention and turnover
Job loss is also a concern. For women suffering from endometriosis, difficulty in managing their symptoms can lead to unemployment, especially in physically demanding roles such as the army or police. The literature also demonstrates a correlation between having endometriosis and job loss, unemployment and involuntary movement into part-time work (Griffiths et al., 2010). These results are influenced by the need to attend medical appointments, pain preventing women from working and time off due to symptoms (Moradi et al., 2014).
Productivity and engagement
Research indicates that performance at work can also be negatively affected by these conditions. Again the stress of infertility, and side effects of stress such as lack of concentration, is likely to disrupt performance and hence employment outcomes (Bashir et al., 2010).
There are similar results for women with endometriosis. A study of 1,418 premenopausal women, aged 18-45, showed a reduced performance with 10.8 hours of work, on average, lost per week. The cost of this lost productivity can be significant; around €6,298 per woman annually, double the direct healthcare costs (Nnoaham et al., 2011).
The menopause can also have a negative effect on outcomes and performance. One study, of 900 women aged 45-55, reported four out of ten individuals feel menopausal symptoms had negatively affected their job performance (Griffiths, 2010).
Addressing the Issue
Stigma around reproductive health at work can prevent women from disclosing and accessing the information they need to support in self-managing their symptoms. An improved recognition of women’s reproductive health in workplace policy and processes would go a long way in supporting female professionals. This could be in the form of sickness absence management, women’s health and wellbeing provision, training for managers and Equality Act implementation.
Nayiri Keshishi is an Employability Curriculum Partner at Kingston University, where she designs and delivers training to develop the employability skills of Business and Social Science students. She has over 5 years’ of experience across higher education, employability and graduate recruitment and is currently studying towards an MSc in Occupational and Business Psychology. You can reach Nayiri on LinkedIn or Twitter @KNayiri.
Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer (2014), ‘The Health of the 51%: Women’, http://www.appgcontinence.org.uk/cmo-report-2014.pdf(accessed 7 Nov 2018).
Bashir, U. & Ramay, M.I. (2010), ‘Impact of Stress on Employees Job Performance’, International Journal of Marketing Studies, 2(1): 122-126.
CIPD (2016), ‘Absence Management’, https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/absence-management_2016_tcm18-16360.pdf(accessed 7 Nov 2018).
Cousineau, T.M. and Domar, A.D. (2007) Psychological impact of infertility. Best Practice and Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 21, 293-308.
Fertility Network UK (2016), ‘Survey on the Impact of Fertility Problems’, http://fertilitynetworkuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SURVEY-RESULTS-Impact-of-Fertility-Problems.pdf(accessed 7 Nov 2018).
Griffiths, A., MacLennan, S. & Vida Wong, Y.Y. (2010). Women’s Experience of Working Through the Menopause. The British Occupational Health Research Foundation.
Grimshaw, J. (1999), ‘Employment and health: Psychosocial stress in the workplace’, London: The British Library.
Moradi, M., Parker, M., Sneddon, A., Lopez, V. & Ellwood, D. (2014), ‘Impact of endometriosis on women’s lives: a qualitative study’, BMC Women's Health, 14: 123.
Nnoaham, K.E., Hummelshoj, L., Webster, P., d’Hooghe, T. et al. (2011), ‘Impact of endometriosis on quality of life and work productivity: a multicenter study across ten countries’, Fertility and Sterility, 96(2): 366-373.
Public Health England (2018), ‘What do women say? Reproductive health is a public health issue’, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/731891/What_do_women_say_reproductive_health_is_a_public_health_issue.pdf(accessed 7 Nov 2018).
The World Bank (2017), ‘Labor Force, Female (% of Total Labor Force)’, The World Bank Databank.