Making Workplace Health Initiatives Work for Women

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By: Kayla McGowan, Project Coordinator, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

As a space where individuals gather and spend significant amounts of time, workplaces can serve as an efficient, underutilized platform and safe environment for impacting employees’ health. Workplace health initiatives can benefit employees and their families while delivering high returns on investments for employers–even in low-resource settings.

For example, catalyzed by a high burden of HIV combined with a low supply of health workers, an organization in Malawi established a health clinic and HIV support group available for health staff at the district hospital. Evaluations of the initiative found that the services and support provided at the workplace increased uptake of essential HIV services among staff. Researchers concluded that the increase in working hours, created by a reduction in illness and death, outweighed the operational costs of the clinic and support group.

In other low-resource settings, workplace initiatives have encouraged women to breastfeed, familiarize themselves with cancer symptoms, and get screened for cervical cancer. Melissa Rendler-Garcia, Special Adviser, Union for International Cancer Control and Member of the Taskforce on Women and NCDs, explains the potential outcomes of workplace interventions:

“Investing in women’s health makes great business sense and helps enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism and lower turnover rates.”

HERproject, an organization that empowers and educates women in global supply chains, capitalizes on the advantages of utilizing workplaces as conduits for health education. In Kenya, for example, where women represent 75% of employees in the horticulture and floriculture industry, HERproject initiatives aim to improve access to family planning, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV prevention services. Work-based programs are efficient as well as effective. In fact, health promotion interventions for factory workers have reported a return on investment as high as 4:1 through reduced absenteeism and lower turnover rates.

Workplaces that do not have work-based programs can still be a practical platform for delivering health education messages. The Evidence Project recently launched a package of online health education materials that are designed to make valuable information on women’s health accessible to workers in low- and middle-income countries. The materials were produced specifically for simple, black ink printers typically found in workplaces.  Topics include reproductive health and family planning, menstrual hygiene, hand washing, and male engagement in family health.

The family planning materials include the following:

Are there other successful workplace-based health programs that you are aware of? Email us at

Additional resources, including reports, publications, and news on family planning can be found on the MHTF Integrating Family Planning Into Maternal Health topics page.

PS – Interested in staying up-to-date on family planning? Subscribe to the MHTF Quarterly!