Periods remain a source of anxiety in the workplace

A new British survey has revealed that a majority of companies fall short when it comes to grasping the extent to which menstruation can be debilitating for some women.

While menstruation has long been a taboo in many areas, companies are increasingly addressing this public health issue in the goal of improving conditions for their female employees. 

Examples are far from anecdotal. The overwhelming majority of women professionals polled for this survey* by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) say they experience menstruation-related symptoms. The most common symptoms range from abdominal cramps and feeling irritable to fatigue and low mood. Some 15% of respondents suffer from a gynaecological condition such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) .

And these menstrual conditions significantly affect their ability to work. As a matter of fact, 82% of women who suffer from menstrual conditions say they have had bad experiences at the office for this reason. However, they are not the only ones to find it difficult to carry out their professional duties due to menstrual symptoms. A majority of all respondents (53%) have had to take time off work because of their menstrual symptoms, and 4% are forced to take time off every month.

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While these figures show the extent to which women are penalised by their menstrual symptoms in their working lives, the CIPD study also highlights the fact that companies are struggling to get to grips with the subject.

At this point they have not succeeded at creating an environment conducive to dialogue, where employees feel sufficiently confident and supported to be able to discuss the difficulties associated with their periods. For example, only 20% of respondents feel comfortable telling their manager when they have to be absent for this reason. They explain that they are afraid that their health concerns will not be taken seriously by their superiors. Some also fear that this could hold back their career advancement.

A subject to be taken seriously

However, it’s in companies’ best interest to support their employees so that they can work to the best of their ability during their periods. But most companies fall short. Only 12% of respondents said that their employer helped them to cope better with their menstrual cycle at work, whether by providing free sanitary protection or offering menstrual leave.

For the CIPD, there is an urgent need for managers and human resources officers to be aware of the difficulties that women may encounter during their menstrual cycle, and to offer them the necessary support, without encroaching on their private life.

“[This] can increase employee attendance, but also legitimise absence where this is needed. It can increase employee performance, engagement, retention, and employer branding,” the organisation explains in its report.

Supporting women during their periods can be a powerful tool for retention. Some 5% of employees surveyed are thinking of leaving their current job, due to a lack of support for their menstrual symptoms. Some have already taken the plunge (3%).

*This survey was conducted online among 2060 women aged 18 to 60. Data was collected between August 2 and 10, 2023.

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