Women’s Health Guide: Work/life and Family

In today’s world, work, life and family have become more interconnected than ever, with women taking on the lion’s share of responsibilities in the home.

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December 07, 2022

Women make up a large part of our workforce and are lagging behind in some health outcomes. To address this equity issue, employers should address the variety of wellness needs of women through various programs and benefits.

Caregivers are twice as likely as those without caregiving responsibilities to develop chronic illness, and 49% experience exhaustion.23 Across the globe, women take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid work and caregiving labor that can lead to both physical ailments and poor mental health.24 During the COVID-19 pandemic, women globally experienced up to three times greater levels of anxiety and depression than men, as well as more stress from caregiving burdens.25 For example, in Spain, a recent study showed that 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic, women self-reported increased caregiving responsibilities, often without help, and a self-perceived greater decline in emotional well-being compared to men.26

Even before the pandemic, across cultures and countries women have been expected to be the caregivers for sick or elderly relatives. This uneven division of responsibility has been linked to psychiatric morbidity in women (i.e., depression, anxiety and lower satisfaction in life).27

Even though some countries are able to support raising a child better than others, childcare responsibilities around the globe still fall on women unequally. Prior to COVID-19, worldwide, women spent about 26 hours per week on childcare compared to 20 hours among men.28 For women, childcare hours increased to 31 hours per week, while for men it went up to 24 hours. The 2020 Raising a Family Index identifies the best and the worst Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for raising a child, based on cost, health, education and time, shown in Table 3.1 below:29

Table 3.1: Top- and Bottom-Ranked Countries for Raising a Child 
Table 3.1: Top- and Bottom-Ranked Countries for Raising a Child

Women are also experiencing financial costs due to additional responsibilities outside their work realm. According to the Lancet Commission on Women and Health, in 2018, the economic value of women’s paid, and unpaid contributions was about $4.2 trillion, with half being unpaid work.30 More than 70% of global caregiving hours are done by women and girls.31

Ultimately, the unequal burden of home and caregiving responsibilities on women results in time poverty, otherwise defined as the lack of “discretionary time” to pursue economic opportunities and health care services.32 Globally, the lack of discretionary time for women leads to them not “seeking health care services, delaying care for prevention and treatment of HIV and other medical conditions, decreased use of prenatal care, and lack of utilization of sexual and reproductive health services.”32,33

Work and life are inextricably linked, and women’s overwhelming home responsibilities can impact work productivity and presenteeism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the uneven caregiving burden resulted in women globally losing more than 64 million jobs, which is equal to over $800 billion in lost income within the span of a year.32

For many women, their struggle to find affordable and quality childcare can potentially limit their career opportunities. A Deloitte survey across 10 global countries found that a majority of women (94%) are hesitant to request flexible work schedules to accommodate their additional responsibilities.18 In addition, “women in health care are twice as likely as men to cite parenthood and increased home responsibilities as reasons for missing out on opportunities for promotion.”17 This highlights a need for employers to not only propose flexible options, but also create safe spaces and cultures where women feel comfortable vocalizing their needs without fear of repercussions and having to miss workdays.

What Should Employers Consider Doing to Support Life and Work for Women in their Workplace?

There are several ways an employer can actualize a robust caregiving program to bolster women’s health, including:

  • Offer navigation tools, dedicated care coordinators and/or other caregiving supports for working parents and caregivers.
  • Train managers to establish trust and understand their responsibility in ensuring that employees maximize available flexible work arrangements.

Learn more in our related resource:

The Family Benefits Bundle

  • Consider not having standing meetings during school drop off and pick-up time, being mindful of different time zones around the world.
  • Review global leave policies to ensure that they are consistent and inclusive for childcare and eldercare challenges, unexpected sick days and more.
  • Offer backup care as well as subsidies and discounts for on-site, near-site or virtual childcare, eldercare and tutoring services (for example, crèche in India).
  • Offer and promote virtual health care options for employees, their children and other dependents.
  • Offer second-opinion benefits for employees, children and other dependents.
  • Create a caregiver employee resource group.
  • Provide legal and financial benefits that support caregiving and end-of-life responsibilities.
  • Offer an emergency relief fund.

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