'Insulting gimmick' | Rail firm Avanti under fire over gift bags given to menopausal employees

Rail firm Avanti under fire over gift bags given to menopausal employees

Rail firm Avanti West Coast has come under fire over its decision to give gift bags to menopausal staff containing items like a fan "for hot sweats" and sweets to prevent workers from "biting someone's head off" - with the move being described as an “insulting gimmick” by unions figures.

Images emerged on social media before the weekend of the goody bags that had been given to rail employees going through menopause, containing small items designed to help staff cope with their symptoms.

Among the items in the goody bag were:  

  • A fan, “ideal for the hot sweats”

  • A jelly baby sweet “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off”

  • A tissue “if you’re feeling a bit emotional”

  • A paper clip “to help you keep it all together” 

  • A pencil “to write down the things you might forget”

However well intentioned the gesture may have been, it has not gone down well with many, some of whom said the bags were insulting, and that the company should be focussing on developing workplace policies to provide support to menopausal and perimenopausal women.

On X, the drivers’ union Aslef shared a photo of a card attached to one of the bags, outlining its contents.

The union captioned the image: “The menopause is debilitating for some women, it’s not a joke. Rather than handing out insulting gimmicks to female employees you’d be better placed developing workplace policies and procedures that value and support perimenopausal and menopausal women!”

The bags have reportedly been handed out to staff for several months now, but have only now been put into the spotlight by the union tweets.

An Avanti spokesperson said: “This is a gift bag designed and created by our own in-house menopause support group and derived from a suggestion from a colleague based on her own personal experience. It is part of a much wider and well-used package of support provided by Avanti West Coast, as part of our commitment to be a proud menopause friendly employer.

“Over the course of the last year, Avanti West Coast has undertaken a wide range of menopause support initiatives including launching guidance for colleagues and managers, creating a support group on internal channels – which is a safe space for women to chat and seek support around menopause and perimenopause – as well as setting up a specialist library giving staff free access to books on the subject.”

58% of UK employees have taken - or might take a new job - based on family health & reproductive benefits

Maven Clinic, the world's largest virtual clinic for women's and family health, recently released its third annual State of Women’s and Family Health Benefits report, providing a forecast for global fertility and family benefits trends in the year to come.

Drawing on responses from over 1,200 HR leaders and 3,000 full-time employees across the U.S. and the U.K., the report provides employers with the insights needed to yield value from their benefits investments and attract top talent. 

In 2024, employers are juggling an ever-widening range of demands, from record-high healthcare costs, to evolving hybrid work policies, and an increasingly age-diverse workforce. More companies are charting a path forward with women’s and family health benefits that attract and retain talent of all ages and help manage costs.

Read more from us

Key findings from The State of Women’s and Family Health Benefits report in the UK include:

  • Family benefits can make or break a career decision. 71% of UK employers say reproductive benefits are important for retention, and 58% of employees have taken, or might take a new job because it offered family or reproductive health benefits.

  • Menopause benefits becoming popular - A quarter of employees think that menopause care is an important benefit.

  • Virtual care complements return-to-office policies - over half (57%) of employees say access to virtual healthcare would make it easier for them to work in person.

  • A quarter (26%) of employees say having a benefit that prepares them to have a family (i.e. preconception genetic testing, learning about ovulation and sperm health) would influence them to take a new job.

  • Employers are prioritising family benefits – 65% of UK employers say that reproductive and family benefits are important or very important for attracting employees.

  • 47% of UK employers plan to increase their family health benefits offerings in the next two to three years

“In today’s ever-changing landscape of HR demands, family benefits are a North Star for return-on-investment. It’s no surprise that more and more families are demanding fertility coverage, and employers are listening,” said Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of Maven Clinic.

HR Grapevine recently published an exclusive report, providing an in-depth look at how people managers can best support menopausal and perimenopausal employees.

Featuring a panel of both health and HR experts, click here to find out more: The lowdown on supporting women at every stage of the menopause experience.

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