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The Next Frontier in Retention? Women’s Health.

This spring, for the 3rd year in a row, Deloitte conducted a sweeping survey of the state of women in the workplace. Based on feedback from 5,000 women in 10 countries, Deloitte reported on both the progress and problems experienced by working women over the past 12 months.

On the progress front, women suffered from less burnout and fewer encounters with non-inclusive behaviors at their workplaces this year than they did in 2022. This was definitely a step forward. One clear problem area the survey revealed, however, was employers’ inattention to women’s health needs.

Employers Need to Accommodate Women’s Unique Physical Health Issues

Deloitte’s research revealed that fully 20% of women experienced challenges at work this year related to common female health conditions such as menstruation and menopause and they don’t feel their employers take these challenges seriously. Amid persistent stigma around ‘female’ problems, women reported regularly having to work silently through pain and discomfort. And, approximately 25% of women who took time off for these health problems did not feel able to disclose their reasons.

While pregnancy and nursing experiences were not expressly explored in Deloitte’s survey, the challenges associated with these conditions are similarly under-attended-to by employers. Pregnant women regularly work through nausea, extreme fatigue, and pain, while lactating mothers consistently report a lack of break time and proper nursing rooms for expressing breast milk.

Women want company policies to recognize and address their challenges. More than half of respondents wish that their employers would not only acknowledge their common health challenges openly, but also offer paid leave to accommodate them. Fewer than a third of women reported that their employers currently offer paid leave related to menstrual symptoms, and only one in five reported that their employers offer paid leave for menopause symptoms. Women want employers to value their needs in these areas.

 Mental Health Is An Equally Serious Area Of Concern For Women 

 Sadly, 56% of working women polled by Deloitte expressed concern about their current mental health. Yet, only 40% of women polled believed they get adequate mental health support from their employer. This is a drop from 44% in 2022.

Nearly half of the women reported that they carried primary responsibility for domestic tasks such as cleaning or caring for dependents in addition to managing their responsibilities at work and it is not easy for them. Just 37% rated their ability to switch off from work when they need to as “good”, down from 45% in 2022. The juggle is a struggle and it is impacting women’s wellness.

Frustratingly, the stigma around mental health at the office is worsening rather than improving. Despite how many women are struggling, the number of women who felt comfortable discussing mental health in the workplace dropped between 2022 and 2023 — from 43% last year during the ‘acute’ pandemic stage, to just 25% this year, now that the pandemic is ‘over.’

And, although nearly a third of women surveyed took time off work for mental health reasons, only 25% felt comfortable disclosing mental health needs as the reason for their absences, down from 39% last year. Women want employers to start recognizing the pressure they are under and provide the kinds of supports that will help relieve the pressure.

It’s Time to Support the ‘Whole’ Woman

Women want employers to provide benefits and amenities that will help them move seamlessly from work to home and back again according to their health and family needs and they are beginning to make job decisions based on these fluidity-focused accommodations.

More women worldwide left their jobs in the past 12 months than in 2021 and 2020 combined, and a lack of flexibility was among the top reasons cited.

Employers who prioritize women’s wellness and offer inclusive supports like elastic working hours, onsite nursing rooms, and expanded leave policies will have a distinct leg up in the hiring and retention race.

It’s Not Complicated

According to Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader Emma Codd, it really comes down to this: “The vast majority of respondents do not believe that their employer is taking concrete steps to deliver on its commitments to gender equality…  Employers need to go beyond setting goals and policies and consistently foster a more inclusive and respectful work environment where all women are able to succeed.”

Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer, concurs. “Just five percent of women view their employers as leaders in gender equality, which should be a wake-up call that significant action is still needed… Women are a vital cohort in the workforce, and our data shows that when organisations prioritise improving women’s experiences in the workplace, they are more engaged, and more productive, and they want to stay with their employers longer. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s a win-win for leaders to cultivate an inclusive culture where all women are set up to thrive.”

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