We have been discussing the importance of women’s health for decades without significant advancement for the issues at hand.
I propose a new perspective on the topic that focuses on the financial health of a business. As physicians, we do not even consider the full extent to which women’s health can impact our own business. The two aspects of business to be considered in this situation involve evaluating the cost of employee turnover and the loss of revenue from decreased productivity.
There is significant data showing the relationship between an increased number of women in the workforce and increased financial benefits for companies. Between 1980-2010, there was a 4% increase in wage growth, with a 7% increase in the number of female employees. Furthermore, a financial model proposed in the Harvard Business Review noted that for every 10% increase in female labor force participation, there was a 5% increase in median wages for both men and women. Part of this rise could be contributed to the increased skill levels in women in addition to the higher number of college and graduate degrees obtained by women compared to men.
Costs related to employee turnover
There is a high cost to replace an employee. An analysis of 15 studies revealed that the cost to replace an 8$/hour employee costs a business anywhere between $5,500 – $9,000 per turnover. Small business owners can spend up to 40% of their working hours on tasks related to non-income generating tasks just as hiring. Most research has shown it can take anywhere from 8-26 weeks for a new employee to reach their full potential, effectively costing the business 1-2.5% of their revenue during that transition.
An unintended consequence of employee turnover is employee morale. Morale can lead to lower work production, decreased product quality, and deteriorating customer service. This indirectly raises costs for employers.
Employee retention is a key factor in the economic success of a business. Creating an environment that limits turnover by female employees allow higher business growth potential.
Costs related to decrease productivity
Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually. There are a number of incentives employed by some companies to promote healthy lifestyles and thus decrease this burden, but there needs to be further considerations to help decrease this disparity.
Data has shown that women have increased rates of job-specific health issues. In addition, there are more work-related injuries due to improperly fitted tools or equipment that are not designed to accommodate female bodies versus male bodies. These can directly impact productivity without necessarily affecting absenteeism. They impact presenteeism – the issue whereby employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of illness or injury.
There is significant room for financial growth of a company that accommodates the health needs of its female employees.
The two most common female health issues that can impact employee retention and productivity are endometriosis and menopause. Endometriosis affects 10-20% of women of reproductive age. Menopause and perimenopause affect an additional 15 million women. These numbers suggest that at any given time, there is a large proportion of working women who are dealing with gynecologic issues that may be impacting their work.
Why are endometriosis and menopause so challenging in the workplace?
Endometriosis is a painful condition for many women. Women can suffer a variety of symptoms, many of which impact their ability to perform work uninterrupted. Women frequently require around the clock pain medication and frequent trips to the bathroom. The physical burden of this pain monthly often leads to additional feelings of anxiety and depression.
In the most severe cases, women miss 1-2 days a month of school or work. Women also require more frequent medical care and appointments to treat endometriosis.
The average age of menopause is 51 years old. In 2018 there were 15.5 million women employed between the age of 44-55, of which 20% of that population already was experiencing symptoms of menopause. By 2024 the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be over 55 million women over the age of 55 in the U.S. Labor Force.
Up to 50% of perimenopausal women experience hot flashes, 60% experience “brain fog,” 25% experience new and unexplained depression, and 40% have sleep disturbances, all of which impact productivity. Unfortunately, menopause is not a one-time event. The years leading up to menopause can range from 10-14 years! One study noted that between 1990-2016 absenteeism from menopause-related symptoms cost employers $9.5 million dollars annually. This reflected only those with severe symptoms. What is also not considered is that menopause and perimenopause increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, both of which have a direct impact on workplace productivity.
Additionally, men who are living with women dealing with any of these significant medical issues may find themselves also impacted in ways that limit their productivity at work. Many of the proposed solutions can have a direct and beneficial impact on male employees as well.
There are already a number of countries that have implanted changes to their workplace with positive effects. These changes do not have to be a large investment of money. Some of the solutions include:
- Addition of an extra paid day off monthly
- Expand the opportunity for remote work from home
- Allow variations in scheduled work hours
- Allow insurances that cover birth control and hormones to help mitigate symptoms that can impact work
- Provide education and resources to managers or executives to help navigate the needs of women during these times
- Consider hiring more women in executive positions as this can foster increased communication with employees who are otherwise afraid to have open discussions about their situations
This information is just a small portion of the available data that not only supports the benefit of adding women to the workforce but creating a work environment that accommodates for health issues in order to have a direct impact on preventing employee turnover and decreased productivity.
Jessica Pearce is an obstetrician-gynecologist.
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