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How can we support menstrual health and periods in the workplace?

Cramps, nausea, migraine, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. Sounds like a recipe for a sick day, right? What if you had to deal with this for 5+ days every single month?

That’s what it’s like for someone who gets periods.

Menstrual health-related conditions can really impact your ability to work, yet they’re often misunderstood in the workplace. This leads to many silent sufferers and people leaving jobs. Unless you feel you have a supportive manager or HR Manager, it can be very lonely.

27% of workers never felt supported by their employer when it came to menstrual health. 87% of people who menstruate have experienced stress or anxiety in the workplace because of their period.

Around half of the population will have periods in their life, and on average, people will get periods for around 40 years. Yes, 40 years! That typically covers your entire working career. When so many people are going through it, why do periods still feel so stigmatised in the workplace?

It’s time we start talking, and listening, about periods in the workplace.

Periods suck

Periods aren’t consistent, and differ from person to person. Some may have irregular and severely painful periods, and others may have bearable times of the month. But it’s never easy for anyone, no matter the symptoms. And thanks to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), symptoms can start even a week before, and last days after. That really doesn’t leave much of the month left to feel ‘normal’.

Unfortunately, 1 in 10 people who menstruate suffer from endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These are chronic illnesses with serious symptoms, including severe abdominal pain, heavier periods, fertility issues, and depression.

It’s time menstrual health is taken seriously in the workplace.

What can you do to ensure your people are supported, respected, and protected in the workplace?

Education goes a long way

Remember the days at school when the boys and girls would be separated in classrooms and the infamous TV would be rolled in with a video ready to teach us about ‘our bodies’ (definitely not feeling nostalgic).  

Even from a very young age, we’re taught that periods are a ‘girls’ thing, and boys don’t need to understand. So, it explains a lot as to why we are in this position in the workplace, where people who menstruate feel they can’t talk about periods at work, especially when it comes to trans and non-binary people with periods.

But a little bit of education can go a long way in supporting your people in the workplace, and in society. Chances are, we all know someone that is dealing with or has dealt with periods in their lives, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could be supportive?

Provide learning for your people to form greater awareness of periods in the workplace to help it become less stigmatised. Periods happen. It’s life, so the better your people understand, the more respectful and supportive they can be.

Whether it’s podcasts, webinars, or courses, there are thousands of resources that can help you educate your people and throw out the stigma within your workplace.

Provide sanitary products

Getting a surprise visit and being caught short without any sanitary products is a horrible feeling. And it happens more often than you realise. In fact, 70% of women surveyed said they had been caught short by their period at work.

Support your people to have a better work experience, provide sanitary products in the bathrooms. Normally, most are prepared. But it happens, and having sanitary products allows your people to deal with everything in the bathroom without the awkward messages to your colleagues to ask if they have any spare. It even saves the sly hide-a-tampon-up-the-sleeve walk through the office (why do we do that?).

It’s really small things that can make a massive difference to someone on their period as it can bring comfort to their working day and make the unbearable, a bit more bearable.

Flexible working

Devastatingly, 25% of respondents in a survey said they believed taking time off work for menstrual health issues had negatively affected their career progression.

Periods can make people sick. 96% of women experience period-related pain or discomfort which affected their working day. It happens, and to a large proportion of the population. So, why are they being punished for dealing with something that is so common, and out of their control?

As helpful as sanitary products and ibuprofen in the office is, there are some days on a period that can really take their toll. But sometimes, it’s not a sick day that’s needed but just the comfort of your own home, where the dress code is relaxed and there’s no worry of people seeing you sit weird (period people, you know what we’re talking about). 65% of UK companies already offer hybrid working schemes which would then enable people who menstruate to have their worst days in the comfort of their own home, proving they’re just as capable as others, without feeling at risk of losing career opportunities.

Don’t lose out on your best people because you can’t offer them the flexibility they deserve. Listen to what would support them during their worst days and be rewarded with long-term commitment.

Acknowledgement and respect can go a long way. Be the support your people need to help them on their successful career journeys.

Looking to empower and upskill your employees with online learning? Talk to an expert to find out more about our interactive and engaging eLearning courses.

Written by Claire Moloney

Claire is an enthusiastic and meticulous content writer whose passion is to support growth and continual learning for everyone.

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