Nine in 10 people who menstruate experience anxiety around periods at work, poll finds

Proactive buy-in at senior level is urgently needed to tackle the ‘huge and persistent stigma’ around menstrual health in workplaces, charity says

Nearly 9 in 10 (87 per cent) people who menstruate have experienced stress or anxiety in the workplace because of their period, a new report has found, highlighting a ‘lack of trust, confidence, proactivity and leadership” in UK workplaces around menstruation.

The poll of 3,000 workers by charity Bloody Good Period found more than a quarter (27 per cent) of workers who menstruate never felt supported by their employer when it came to either typical or disordered menstrual health.

Similarly, a third of respondents (33 per cent) felt it was unprofessional to mention their menstrual health to their employer, while a quarter (25 per cent) said they believed taking time off work for menstrual health issues had negatively affected their career progression.

Joe Gray, employers project lead at Bloody Good Period, said the findings highlighted a “concentric cycle of silence” surrounding periods in UK workplaces, with a culture of non-disclosure, lack of knowledge and rapport, and bad communication underpinning the continued stigma.

“The repetitive lack of communication around periods is at the heart of this ‘cycle of silence’,” he said. “Most, though not all, workplaces have issues around stigma, non-disclosure around how periods can be challenging at work, and a general lack of knowledge.”

The report highlighted that because few workplaces either ask or mandate managers to consider how they would support employees with either typical or disordered menstrual health, any support that was provided was built on personal relationships that “tend to centre around the senior person’s experience of that issue”.

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When asked what their employers could do, nearly two-third (63 per cent) said they should normalise the conversation around periods in the workplace, while a similar proportion (59 per cent) said they should provide more information to all employees.

One respondent to the poll said: “It would feel like a more safe environment to speak openly about menstrual issues without fear of being judged, and to be taken seriously when having problems.” Another said: “I don’t feel confident talking about [period issues] with my employer for fear that it would make me look flaky or weak. Colleagues who take regular sick leave are seen as unreliable and so I will tend to struggle on, regardless of how I feel.”

Fewer than one in 10 (8 per cent) of those surveyed reported always feeling supported by male colleagues, while almost half (49 per cent) never did, the report found. It noted that among cis men in particular, who don’t mensturate and so don’t have a direct point of reference, there was often a “significant gap in knowledge and understanding” about menstruation.

One male manager working in finance interviewed for the report said: “Without full knowledge of a situation, not only will support not be possible, but there will be a perception of women in some way being dishonest or taking advantage.”

Gabby Edlin, founder and CEO of Bloody Good Period, said there was a good business case for providing better support for those who menstruate. “We believe that supporting people when they have their periods can have significant mental health benefits, boosting satisfaction levels, happiness at work, productivity and loyalty. Looking after staff in a way that reflects their whole selves is the right thing to do,” she said.

The report concluded there was “a need for greater proactivity at a leadership level. In making time for managers to begin to understand the individual needs of team members, and for the support that meets those needs to be formalised as policy.

“Proactive buy-in, at senior level, is a complete step on from informal, awkward conversations behind closed doors, and will be vital to changing the conversation around periods at work,” the report said.

The findings come ahead of the launch of Bloody Good Employers, a programme aimed at helping organisations to play a more active role in the conversation around menstruation and improve the support they offer.