A new survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has highlighted the inequality women in the workplace face due to menstruation with over two-thirds of UK women having bad experiences at work.
In a survey conducted by the CIPD, 69% of women in the UK have encountered negative experiences at work directly linked to their menstrual symptoms.
The study, involving over 2,000 participants, highlights the pervasive nature of the issue, with more than half of the respondents admitting to missing work due to period-related symptoms.
The CIPD study also brings to light the impact of menstrual symptoms on job performance. Four-fifths of women facing challenging symptoms reported working despite feeling unwell, while over 50% revealed they had been too ill to attend work.
The most prevalent symptoms identified include abdominal cramps, irritability, fatigue, and bloating, affecting concentration levels in 60% of the surveyed women providing a comprehensive look at the prevalence of menstruation symptoms and its effect on women in the workplace.
‘A barrier to success and well-being’
Beyond the physical toll, the study delves into the emotional and professional repercussions, with 81% reporting a negative impact at work for those with diagnosed menstrual conditions.
Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said that the report highlighted "the need for a more empathetic and understanding working environment. Menstruation is a natural part of many employees' lives, and it shouldn’t be a barrier to success or well-being".
The repercussions of the lack of support for menstrual health extend beyond the immediate workplace challenges. The study reveals that 12% of women feel their menstrual symptoms have negatively impacted their career progression.
Petchara Newson, business development coordinator for UK-based charity Freedom4girls, told Euronews about the complex feelings surrounding menstruation and the workplace.
"Talking about your period to a male colleague or boss can already be intimidating if your struggles are shot down this creates a lot of shame and embarrassment, and having your work be compromised by immense pain and suffering alone feeds back into this negative cycle of shame," Newson said.
The report by CIPD calls for organisations to create awareness and tackle the stigma associated with menstruation whilst training managers to be confident, comfortable, and inclusive when talking to employees about menstrual health.
Women reluctant to discuss
Despite the widespread impact, the CIPD study highlights a reluctance among women to openly discuss their menstrual challenges at the workplace. Only 20% of women consistently informed their managers about the connection between their absence and their menstrual cycle.
A significant 49% cited fear of trivialisation, while 43% felt too embarrassed to disclose the real reason behind their sick leave.
The CIPD is urging workplaces to address the stigma surrounding menstruation and implement policies to support women during their menstrual cycles.
Of the respondents, 12% reported receiving any form of organisational support for menstruation and menstrual health. Colleagues emerged as a more reliable source of support with 41% feeling supported by co-workers rather than their employers or managers.
The Spanish model example
Currently, Spain stands as the only country in Europe that offers women three days of menstrual leave a month with the option of extending it to five days, depending on the level of pain. Other countries with some level of government support for women in the workplace also include Japan, South Korea, Zambia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The director general of the European Institute of Women’s Health, Peggy Maguire, explained to Euronews Business what steps can be taken to ensure women’s equality in the workplace when it came to menstruation.
"Given the impact of menstrual symptoms on women’s participation in the workplace and the debate surrounding menstrual leave policies, policymakers and stakeholders should facilitate an open debate on the management of menstruation in the workplace. Follow Spain, for example."
The CIPD study not only exposes the magnitude of menstrual challenges faced by women in the UK workforce but also underscores the urgent need for comprehensive workplace policies, guidance, and training. While some support measures exist, there is a clear call for more substantial support, such as planned flexible working and additional breaks when needed.
The study's findings emphasise the imperative for workplaces to break the silence surrounding menstrual health and implement meaningful changes for the well-being and professional advancement of women in the workforce.