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We need to better support and retain employees with endometriosis

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, a time for us to shine a light on the disease that affects 1.5 million women in the UK.

It is a prevalent yet often misunderstood condition. Endometriosis is a whole-body, chronic inflammatory disease with symptoms of chronic pain, extreme fatigue and infertility. If left untreated, it can cause organ dysfunction, nerve damage and bowel obstruction. It's a debilitating condition that not only impacts personal lives but also has profound implications for professional development and career advancement.

Endometriosis: Everything HR needs to know

Although new standards were introduced for menstrual health and menopause in the workplace last year, conditions like endometriosis continue to be overlooked. Research we commissioned found that one in five women feel their workplaces are unsupportive of chronic health conditions, which is an alarming insight.

Due to its unpredictable nature, endometriosis sufferers will often look fine, but suddenly, all of that can rapidly change due to the onset of very painful and distressing symptoms. This dynamic fluctuation in wellness and the ability to perform can be difficult for employers and managers to understand. Presently, they are also not well equipped to support this.

How to tend to the needs of the long-term sick

Research conducted in the UK in consultation with 2,000 women found that 63% of endometriosis sufferers were told they were lying about their symptoms, affecting people’s mental health greatly. More than half (51%) claimed it to have negatively affected their careers. Without the right support in place, the condition has a significant impact on productivity, which not only impacts the employee but can also impact an organisation’s bottom line. 

Thanks to increased awareness of endometriosis over the last couple of years, we are finally at an inflection point where organisations are asking what they can do to support those who suffer from the many impairments of the disease. Some corporate health insurers cover laparoscopic surgery (the gold standard diagnosis tool for endometriosis) as part of their employee policy. However, endometriosis is an incurable disease that requires long-term multidisciplinary support that must continue beyond an individual surgery. 

The majority of businesses do not have the right tools or expertise in-house to support health conditions like endometriosis, so are looking towards digital solutions that they can incorporate into the workplace.

Record numbers fall out of workforce due to long-term sickness

Our frendo@work programme aims to bridge this gap by providing organisations with the resources they need to support their employees with endometriosis, as well as the wider organisation, including company workshops, self-management tools and scientifically-backed resources and guidance for line managers, to help them better support and communicate with staff members with the condition.

Endometriosis is a life-changing disease, and its far-reaching symptoms can lead to work-related issues because of a long-standing stigma and a deep misunderstanding of the condition, which creates a barrier for employees, preventing them from openly discussing their health struggles with colleagues and managers. 

Creating an open, inclusive and engaged work environment is the antidote to a history of stigma and silence. To do this, organisations need to raise awareness amongst staff of all genders to help widen the net of education and support for those who have previously felt isolated.

Employers concerned about long-term illness

It’s also vital that employers equip managers with the right information and resources so that they are able to help employees perform at their best.

All businesses should consider implementing an endometriosis policy as part of a company-wide positive culture shift that also includes the support mechanisms outlined above. By providing access to appropriate healthcare resources and promoting awareness and understanding among colleagues, employers can significantly improve the wellbeing and productivity of their employees.

In addition, supporting employees with endometriosis aligns with broader goals of diversity, equity and inclusion, and is crucial for fostering an inclusive and compassionate workplace environment. It demonstrates a commitment to valuing the diverse experiences and health challenges of all employees, thereby enhancing overall morale and engagement in the workplace.

Furthermore, addressing the health needs of employees not only benefits an organisation’s staff but also contributes to its bottom line. By reducing absenteeism and turnover rates, businesses can reduce the costs associated with lost productivity and recruitment. Additionally, fostering an environment of empathy and support can strengthen employee loyalty and attract top talent.

Ultimately, businesses have a responsibility to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees by implementing supportive policies, providing resources, and fostering a culture of understanding and inclusivity. By doing so, they not only fulfil their ethical obligations but also nurture a more resilient and thriving workforce.

By Dearbhail Ormond, Founder and CEO of frendo