Most women with period-related symptoms feel compelled to lie about their absence

Experts suggest employers must do more to normalise discussion, as survey finds employees are uncomfortable discussing the topic with managers

More than half of UK employees who suffer from period-related health problems have lied about their reasons for being off sick, research has revealed, prompting campaigners to call on employers to take action to end workplace stigma.

A poll of 2,000 female employees, conducted by the firm DPG, found 57 per cent who suffered period-related health issues – ranging from cramps and migraines to endometriosis – had lied about why they were off sick.

The survey also found nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents felt there was a noticeable stigma around the issue at their organisation, while 60 per cent said they would be uncomfortable discussing the topic of menstruation “at all” with colleagues or managers. 

Almost a third (30 per cent) said their colleagues didn’t take period pain seriously and 13 per cent said they had been confronted with negative comments including “It’s not a real illness” and “You’re just lazy”. Three-quarters (74 per cent) felt it was necessary to hide sanitary products at work.

Sarah Aubrey, CEO at DPG, said the results showed it was “high time managers and employers make a concerted effort to overcome period stigma in the workplace”.

“We need to be making a focused move towards normalising periods and removing misconceptions around them,” she said. “This can start with small steps, such as introducing the subject in wider conversations around health and wellbeing, and making your workplace period positive.”

The survey also highlighted a lack of workplace facilities and resources available to those who needed them. 

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of those polled reported having no sanitary bins at work, 31 per cent said they did not have constant access to a toilet and 62 per cent said they had no way of accessing sanitary products at work if they ran out.

Reacting to the figures, Nadya Okamoto, founder of charity PERIOD, said companies and managers needed to treat periods as normal and natural, and should provide menstrual hygiene products for all employees.

Okamoto encouraged employers to start a conversation and be open to discussing periods with employees. “Transparency needs to start with leadership, so just start that conversation and create a safe space for people to be honest with each other,” she said.

“A really tangible way to show your support for people with periods in the office is to stock every bathroom with tampons and pads,” she added.

Okamoto also called on organisations not to tolerate negative comments – such as suggesting a female colleague’s actions were attributable to their period.

Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne, founder of sanitary product subscription service Freda, agreed small and simple actions such as providing sanitary products could “enable women’s careers to flourish” because their most basic needs would be met.

She said: “When an employer makes the necessary changes, whatever they may be, it is a nod to the existence of women and their needs in the workforce. Creating an inclusive environment is fundamental. Don’t accept the status quo.”