Seven in 10 women are negatively impacted by their period at work – how can HR help?

CIPD research reveals absence and lower productivity are among the outcomes, with organisations accused of not doing enough to support employees

Image credit: Getty Images

Seven in 10 (69 per cent) women say their period has a negative impact on their work, the CIPD’s Menstruation and support at work report has found. 

More than half (53 per cent) of women who experienced menstrual symptoms said they were unable to attend work at some point because of their period, the survey of more than 2,000 women aged 18-60 revealed.

Employees suffering from menstrual-related symptoms – which include abdominal cramps, feeling irritable, fatigue and low mood – reported feeling more tired (79 per cent) and less able to concentrate (63 per cent).

Three in five (61 per cent) of those surveyed said they worked when they did not feel well enough, while two in five (38 per cent) felt less confident at work as a result of their period. 

Clare Knox, CEO of See Her Thrive, told People Management that menstrual health was a vital workplace issue. “These conditions don’t just stay at home; they follow us into our professional lives, casting a shadow of symptoms like debilitating pain, heavy bleeding, crippling fatigue and emotional turmoil,” Knox said.

“It’s a tough act to juggle and it takes a toll on our concentration, productivity and overall wellbeing.”

She stressed that it was vital for employers to “foster an inclusive and empathetic work environment”, adding: “Seeking support isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.”

Support can be especially important for those with pre-existing menstrual conditions including PMDD – a severe form of PMS that can trigger depression and anxiety symptoms – and endometriosis, which can cause debilitating menstrual pains, said Knox.

The survey found that those who had a diagnosed menstrual condition were more likely to feel the impact of periods on their work – four in five (81 per cent) said their symptoms had a negative effect on their performance. 

It also said businesses needed to do more to create “open and healthy workplace cultures” where people “can talk about symptoms”, as half (49 per cent) of women who took time off for their periods said they would never tell their manager the real cause of their absence. 

The most common reason respondents gave for this was they felt the problem would be trivialised (45 per cent), while 43 per cent said they felt “embarrassed”.

Elysha Paige, commercial and development director at awareness charity Bloody Good Period, said the reasons for employees having to take leave can vary from not having free access to toilets, period products, flexible working arrangements and other supplies, to “people feeling the need to hide that they are on their period out of fear of being mocked or discriminated against”.

Paige stressed it was important that support was available for “those most at risk, such as more junior employees and those working on the frontline”. 

Knox added that people suffering menstrual symptoms at work needed “an employer who truly gets it”. Businesses should invest in training programmes for managers, she said, as well as providing educational resources to ensure menstrual health conditions are better understood.

The CIPD’s report also saw two thirds (67 per cent) of employees saying their organisation failed to provide any support for people with periods, such as a policy, or guidance or training for employers and managers. A further fifth (21 per cent) of respondents did not know if there was support available or not. 

Clare McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, told People Management: “Employers have an important role to play in helping normalise menstruation in the workplace, through supportive discussions, including menstruation and menstrual health conditions in policies, guidance and resources and training managers, to better understand the impact menstruation can have and the importance of sensitivity and discretion.”

The report comes as Spain passed a law earlier this year enabling employees to take up to three days’ paid ‘menstrual leave’ per month.

In the UK, 15 per cent of employers offer paid sick leave for those with symptoms of menstruation, according to the CIPD.