Menstruation and support at work (Gender)
This report explores employees’ experiences of menstruation and menstrual health at work and details how employers can develop a supportive culture.
Our report examines the results of our survey of over 2,000 women, aged 18-60, who currently or have previously menstruated whilst in employment. The aim of this research is to understand employees’ experiences of menstruation and what support can be most helpful at work.
Our findings show that almost four in five have experienced menstruation symptoms, more than two-thirds of employees have experienced a negative impact at work due to menstruation symptoms, and 15% have a menstrual health condition like endometriosis. And yet, only 12% of organisations provide support for menstruation and menstrual health.
While the support on offer broadly corresponds with what employees would find most helpful (such as free period products, paid sick leave and paid time off for medical appointments) more can be done (for example, less than one in 10 have had access to support considered most valued like planned flexible working).
We need more work to build awareness and supportive cultures as around half of employees (49%) said they never tell their manager that any absence they need to take is related to their menstrual cycle. When asked why they felt unable to tell their manager the real reason they were unable to go into work, employees said it was because they felt the problem would be trivialised, followed closely by feeling embarrassed and that they prefer to keep the matter private.
Based on our findings this report shares key principles employers can use to build a supportive workplace culture.
While these findings are based on UK data, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based.
Please note, while we predominantly talk about women in relation to menstruation and menstrual health, we recognise that it can impact some transgender and non-binary people who will require support and flexibility relevant to their needs.
- 79% of respondents say they have experienced menstruation symptoms.
- The most common symptoms include abdominal cramps (60%), feeling irritable (52%), fatigue (49%) bloating (49%) and low mood (47%) but there are a wide range of symptoms experienced.
- 15% say they have a menstrual condition such as endometriosis, PCOS, PMDD, fibroids.
- Around 7 in 10 employees (69%) who have experienced symptoms from menstruation report that they have had a negative impact at work.
- This rises to 81% reporting a negative impact where people have a diagnosed menstrual condition and 82% in the case of a self-diagnosed menstrual condition.
- More than half (53%) had been unable to go into work at some point because of their symptoms and for a small minority (4%) this was the case every month.
- Around half of employees (49%) said they never tell their manager their absence is related to their menstrual cycle.
- When asked why they felt unable to tell their manager the real reason they were unable to go into work, employees said it was because that they felt the problem would be trivialised, followed closely by feeling embarrassed and that they prefer to keep the matter private.
- Our findings show that most employees don’t feel a strong sense of support in their organisation in relation to their menstrual cycle.
- People are much more likely to feel supported by colleagues than by their employer or manager (41% compared with 21% and 26%, respectively).
- Just over 1 in 10 (12%) of employees report that their organisation provides support for menstruation and menstrual health, for example in the form of a policy, guidance or training.
- 1 in 5 didn’t know if support was available but two-thirds (67%) said there is no support available.
- The most common type of support is free period products (18%) followed by paid sick leave (15%) and paid time off for medical appointments (12%). Any other type of support is even less commonly available.
- The provision currently on offer, although limited, chimes to some extent with the support that our respondents would find most helpful, with free period products, paid sick leave and paid time off for medical appointments all rated in the top five.
- However, the other two types of support that would be most valued are planned flexible working and more breaks when needed and less than 1 in 10 employees have had access to either.
- Overall, 3% say they have left a job due to a lack of workplace support in relation to their menstrual symptoms.
- A further 5% are considering leaving.
- Those employees with a disability are more likely to say this (11% compared to 6% without).
- Those who have a male (8%) manager are more likely to say this than those who have a female (4%) manager.
- 12% of respondents say their menstrual symptoms have had a negative impact on their career.
Based on our research we have identified the following principles that organisations can use to plan better support for menstrual health in the workplace:
Build an open and inclusive culture to normalise menstruation in the workplace through supportive discussions and open dialogue.
Create awareness and tackle stigma, for example through having a dedicated section for information and resources on the company intranet.
Develop a support framework. This can include policy provision, support pathways, guidance and training.
Train and support people managers. Training should include information about the diversity of menstruation experiences and the importance of sensitivity and discretion.
Organisations looking to support employees with menstrual health conditions should consider:
Embedding good people management practices.
Creating the climate for successful sharing.
Ensuring employees have easy access to information and support.
Managing absence and performance management with compassion and flexibility.
Providing access to, and training in, work adjustments and self-management support.