More than two-thirds of women in the UK have bad experiences at work due to their periods, according to a report.
In a survey of more than 2,000 women by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 69% said they had had a negative experience at work due to menstruation symptoms.
More than half said they had had to miss work due to period symptoms, and one in five took sick leave. Three-fifths said they had worked when they did not feel well enough to do so.
However, only one in 10 women said their organization provided support for menstrual health. Nearly half said they never told their manager that the absence was related to their menstrual cycle out of embarrassment or fear that their symptoms would be trivialized.
For the minority of participants who reported having health problems such as polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), or endometriosis, the impact was even greater: 81 percent said they had had bad experiences at work because of their symptoms.
Puja said she encountered a lack of compassion when she asked her employers for help due to debilitating physical and psychological symptoms due to her PMDD. “I wanted to explore the possibility of medical leave and mental health support without having to tell my line manager my exact medical condition,” she says. Although policies were in place, Puja said she was not eligible for help because she was not a permanent staff member.
Tanya Simon-Hall said her employer dismissed her symptoms as just a period, making her feel guilty about missing work.
“I was going to work in excruciating pain only to be seen and sent home again,” he said. “I was struggling so much that my sick leave became unpaid leave and then my contract wasn’t renewed.”
Smith-Hall, who has endometriosis and adenomyosis, now runs her own business, Adeno Gang, and runs menstrual health workshops for young people. “Companies need to understand the level of pain these conditions cause,” she said. “It’s not just a period.”
Kate Muir, author of Everything You Need to Know About Menopause, said it was not just an issue for younger workers. “For women on a hormonal rollercoaster in perimenopause, there are additional problems with periods at work, as the timing becomes increasingly unpredictable and periods can be like tsunamis. “It is a huge and unrecognized struggle.”
Caroline Nokes, chair of the House of Commons women and equalities select committee, said women had told the committee how they were forced to take days off, not listened to and basically told to “suck it up”, and that some women even have access. Accessing decent sanitary facilities was difficult. “It’s very obvious that employers have a long way to go in this regard,” she said.
Janet Lindsay, chief executive of the Women’s Wellbeing charity, which runs the “just one period” said it was “unacceptable” that menstrual health issues were causing women to suffer at work and some were forced to leave their jobs.
The CIPD report called on all workplaces to be more empathetic and understanding, tackling stigma and training managers on the effects of menstrual symptoms. “Menstruation is a natural part of life for many employees and should not be a barrier to success or wellbeing,” said Claire McCartney, senior resource and inclusion adviser at the CIPD.
Clare-Louise Knox, chief executive of charity See Her Thrive, which supports women in the workplace, said supporting menstrual health was not only the right thing to do, it also made business sense.
“Workplaces that champion menstrual health witness lower absenteeism, lower turnover rates, and higher job satisfaction,” she said.