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Many employers offer little support to women workers with menstrual-related conditions, says new report

20 Nov 2023 5 minute read
Sophie Richards

Martin Shipton

A woman from Carmarthen is calling for more workplace support for menstrual health after quitting her dream job due to lack of understanding and support from her employer around her medical condition.

Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It can cause severe pain in the pelvis and make it harder to get pregnant. Sometimes it starts at a girl’s first menstrual period and lasts until menopause.

Symptoms of endometriosis may include excessive menstrual cramps, abnormal or heavy menstrual flow and pain during intercourse.

Sophie Richard’s call comes as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) releases its Menstruation and support at work report, which surveyed more than 2,000 women and found that more than two thirds (69%) of women in the UK have a negative experience at work because of their menstruation symptoms.

Sophie, 26, was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 21 following a five-year struggle with chronic pain, bloating and irregular cycles before her condition was recognised by medical professionals.

Receiving her official diagnosis while a university student, Sophie was told the condition was chronic and was advised the best course of action to relieve symptoms would be to have a hysterectomy.

Specialist advice

Sidelining that decision until she had graduated, Sophie sought additional medical advice from a specialist. She said: “I was fortunate enough to be able to seek further advice from an endometriosis specialist, who actually told me a hysterectomy wouldn’t have helped at all, and what I needed was a further two operations.

“Fast forward a few years and I’d discovered how to manage my condition by a cycle-led strategy, something I still live by today. I went on to land my absolute dream graduate traineeship at a company I’d set my sights on when leaving university, and I was really lucky to have a line manager who was happy to offer support and flexibility in helping me manage my condition in the workplace. Sadly, this manager moved on and was replaced by someone new who wasn’t willing to even consider continuing the same support I had previously.

“At this time I was also going through a fertility treatment, something which required me to self-inject hormones throughout the working day and store medication at a specific temperature. I was aware that some employers do accommodate sanitary fridges and have specific rooms for people to administer injections in, but my company didn’t offer this. I was also told working from home wasn’t an option for me by my manager, who even suggested I store my medication in the general kitchen fridge. This attitude left me no choice but to leave my job if I wanted to continue with my life-changing treatment.”

Sophie is one of thousands of women across the UK who have had a negative experience at work because of their menstruation symptoms or conditions. The survey conducted by the CIPD found that just one in ten (12%) women say that their organisation provides support for menstruation and menstrual health conditions.

In response to the research findings, the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development – is calling on organisations to create awareness, tackle the stigma associated with menstruation and train managers to be confident, comfortable and inclusive when talking to employees about menstrual health.

The most common symptoms reported include abdominal cramps (60%), irritability (52%), fatigue (49%) and bloating (49%) but there are a wide range of symptoms experienced. Of those who experienced symptoms, four-fifths (81%) said they had worked when they didn’t feel well enough to, and one in five (20%) took sick leave.

Serious impact

The report’s findings make it clear that some menstruation symptoms can have a serious and negative impact on the careers of those who experience it:

* 63% felt less able to concentrate;

* Half (50%) felt an increased amount of stress;

* 49% felt less patient with colleagues or clients; and

* 38% said they felt less confident at work.

As well as the more common symptoms of menstruation, 15% of women said they also had a menstrual health condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or endometriosis. Of the employees who have a formal diagnosis of such a condition, 81% said that menstruation symptoms have had a negative impact on them at work.

The report also highlights that despite 53% of women surveyed being unable to attend work at some point in their career because of menstruation symptoms, nearly half (49%) said they never tell their manager the absence is related to their menstrual cycle.

When asked why they didn’t feel able to say why they were not able to go into work, the report finds that 45% of women felt that the problem would be trivialised and 43% felt embarrassed.

Lesley Richards, head of the CIPD in Wales, said: “Our latest report on menstruation and support at work underscores 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.

“Employers can greatly improve the working lives of employees who experience menstruation symptoms by creating inclusive, supportive work environments and training managers to have a better understanding of the impact it can have. A lot can be done without huge cost to businesses including the adoption of more flexible working practices and signposting to external resources.”

To read the full Menstruation and support at work report from the CIPD, visit www.cipd.org.

Sophie Richards now runs her own business, The Endo Spectrum, where she works with companies and individuals to help educate on menstrual health well-being at work: https://theendospectrum.com/.


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Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 days ago

Wow. Another good article on women’s issues. Be nice if it got a similar level of traction in the comments as some of the more … sensationalist topics. This being 51% if the nation after all and a potential reality for anyone with a female reproductive system (Don’t start. you know who you are!) So it’s nice to see these finding their way into NC’s rota of topics

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