The pandemic has shone a light on how challenges in employees’ personal lives affect their work; this has pushed employers to step up to their responsibilities to support their staff through hard times.
While this is helping break the stigma around discussing mental health challenges and concerns at work, other workplace taboos remain commonplace to the detriment of workers and their employers.
For instance, menopause is still a major workplace taboo. A study of 500 women by fertility provider Fertifa found that 70% did not feel comfortable talking to their employer about their menopause symptoms.
The report found that 26% were “too embarrassed”, 10% thought their manager would be embarrassed, and 25% worried it might negatively impact their career.
A similar situation exists for fertility challenges. Although one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage and one in eight have problems getting pregnant, fertility problems remain a major taboo in wider society, but particularly in the workplace.
To try and tackle this, some progressive and forward-thinking employers are stepping up by introducing new benefit policies or expanding existing offerings.
Examples include professional services firm PwC who is going to allow staff to take eight days off when undergoing fertility treatment and challenger bank Monzo, which will provide up to ten days of leave for employees who have suffered any form of pregnancy loss.
The latest employer to join them is fashion retailer ASOS.
ASOS as a progressive employer
ASOS’ chief people officer (CPO) Jo Butler tells UNLEASH that in early October the retailer decided to formalize what had been happening on a case-by-case basis around so-called “health-related life events” for its employees, or ASOSers, in the UK.
This formalization was motivated by HR and managers “increasingly seeing ASOSers needing our help with these kinds of life events, not knowing how they could be supported or get help,” notes Butler.
“ASOSers of all gender identities shared their personal stories and experience to help the people experience team develop our approach”, which has been received positively by employees, according to Butler.
“We wanted to ensure that our people knew we were here for them as a progressive employer, no matter what and every step of the way,” explains Butler.
But this requires “clarity and consistency” in policies, so, ASOS created new policies that enable employees to take leave when dealing with these healthcare challenges.
“We hope that by creating a clear policy framework around these specific life events, ASOSers will feel encouraged to [talk about these challenges] this in the knowledge that they will supported personally and financially throughout challenging times,” explains Butler.
This, in turn, helps to break taboos around these issues at work as it shows others it is okay to have conversations about these topics.
What are ASOS’s new healthcare policies?
The first part of the new ASOS policies is ten days paid leave for individuals dealing with pregnancy loss – this is for an employee who was pregnant, someone whose partner was pregnant, as well as individuals who lose a child being carried by a surrogate.
This recognizes “that the impact and grief of pregnancy loss are felt by individuals, couples, and families, as well as the biological mother”, according to a ASOS release. This is in line with the pregnancy loss policies offered by other employers like Monzo, Channel 4, and YuLife.
ASOS also introduced additional leave for employees going through fertility treatment or supporting their partner through this process. The allowance is five days of leave per treatment cycle.
“Our policies for pregnancy loss and reproductive health acknowledge that everyone’s circumstances are different,” notes Butler.
“We wanted to ensure that we were able to provide support for partners, co-parents, those who are single, and other circumstances, such as surrogacy, donors, elective abortion, medically-advised termination, fertility preservation, and treatment”.
The retailer is also going to allow ASOSers to work flexibly, take leave at short notice or request to work from home while suffering with debilitating mental and physical symptoms of the menopause.
Beyond fertility and menopause, ASOS is offering up to six weeks of paid leave to employees going through other health-related life events, such as gender reassignment surgery, cancer treatment or those escaping domestic violence, since all of these can all affect individuals’ wellbeing and productivity at work.
“We are doing this without any HR tech providers – it is something we felt we could achieve quickly and effectively ourselves”, notes Butler.
Importance of having gender-neutral leave policies
ASOS’ new policies are all intentionally gender-neutral.
Butler explains: “It’s really important that our people policies are written with everyone in mind, not just the majority. We believe that when you have an equal chance to discover all the amazing you’re capable of, we’ll achieve amazing things as a company.”
She adds that this relevant to the menopause policy, which will not only be for cisgender women, and also “recognizes that this affects people across the age spectrum too”.
“The aim of calling this out is not only to directly support our trans and non-binary ASOSers, but also to educate and remind our cisgender ASOSers that the issues are universal”, Butler tells UNLEASH.
Ultimately for ASOS and Butler, “everyone deserves to have equal access to support and to know that we are here for them, no matter what and every step of the way”.
The future for healthcare policies
Looking to the future, Butler is very clear that ASOS “won’t stop here – we will keep listening, learning and evolving, to help us on journey to be the most diverse ASOS we can be”.
It will continue to update its policies according to the needs and desires of its employees.
But, the next step for ASOS, is to roll out these policies globally – they are currently only available in the UK market. While the “vast majority of our people are UK-based”, Butler notes, “we are currently working on how we will support and roll out similar changes for our global ASOSers” based in Europe, the US and elsewhere.
Butler concludes: “Through harnessing best practice and innovation, we want to empower all our people to bring their authentic selves to work every day, and to drive inclusion for all”; this includes beyond ASOS.
The retailer wants to lead by example and “encourage other businesses to recognize [that]…all of us face unexpected challenges in life…and the role they can play in removing stigma by opening up conversations and supporting their employees going through life events”, according to Butler.
Ultimately, implementing policies around menopause, fertility, pregnancy loss and other healthcare challenges employees face is not only good for wellbeing, but “it also makes business sense”, notes Butler. Remember, happy and valued employees are the most productive.