Research conducted by Henpicked: Menstruation Friendly and FitrWoman polled over 750 employers and employees on the topic of menstrual health in the workplace. Responses to the Breaking the Cycle survey revealed a state of affairs which needs to be addressed:

 

  • 76% of employees report menstrual health symptoms impact their work performance
  • 61% of employees want menstruation to be recognised as a reason for absence
  • 83% of employees think their workplace should have a menstruation friendly policy
  • 64% of employers haven’t had expert training to be confident when having a conversation about menstrual health with employees

 

Normalising the conversation

Fundamental to achieving a menstruation-friendly workplace is to normalise the conversation and break the taboo. Or, as one survey respondent succinctly put it, “Talk about it. If everyone stays silent, nothing changes.”

 

The Breaking the Cycle survey reveals that 44% of employees have never talked about menstruation with their line manager and only 17% feel ‘very comfortable’ doing so.

 

Paradoxically, 48% of employers said they feel ‘very comfortable’ talking to employees about menstrual health. This is despite 64% having had no specific training to enable them to approach the topic with good knowledge, understanding and confidence. This leaves a gap between the desire to support staff and the ability to deliver.

 

Need for an Active Policy

There is a clarion call for a menstrual health policy in workplaces with 83% of employees saying this is crucial. More than a guidance document, people are asking for an active policy to be embedded within the workplace culture.

 

Worryingly, 54% of employers say that ‘understanding its necessity’ is the biggest barrier to adopting a menstruation friendly policy. Furthermore, 33% say that a ‘lack of resources and expertise’ are preventing progress.

 

Training is a top priority

The overwhelming majority of respondents, when asked what one change they’d make, said to prioritise training in the workplace. Employees are calling for training for all staff, especially line managers. Also clear from the survey responses is the discomfort people feel when talking to line managers about menstrual health. It was also pointed out that employers must include men in training, as their support and allyship is very important.

 

Recognised reason for absence

While 61% of employees would like menstrual health to be a recognised reason for absence, only 32% of employers say it is currently so. This area needs to change as currently employees say they either don’t take required time off for fear of “losing a sick day” or don’t declare the real reason as they feel “embarrassed” or “not taken seriously.”

 

Most common issues

Menstrual health issues affect people differently, but the most common problems faced in the workplace are 77% experience period pain or pre-menstrual tension, 55% have experienced menstrual flooding or leaking and 53% have been caught out at work without period products. Just over a third, 34%, have been stuck in a meeting or at a workstation unable to explain or excuse themselves.

 

Symptoms impacting work performance and career progression

Quite apart from the physical and emotional discomfort in the workplace, those affected by menstrual health symptoms cannot perform at their best in the workplace. In fact, 76% of employees said that menstrual health issues impact their ability to be their best at work and 40% believe their monthly menstruation challenges are affecting their career progress.

 

Breaking the Cycle

In direct response to this research, Henpicked: Menstruation Friendly joined forces with the women’s hormonal health app FitrWoman to host Breaking the Cycle – a workplace event, aimed at fostering menstruation-friendly workplaces. Presented on June 18, 2024 at the University of Greenwich, Breaking the Cycle comprised a panel session and smaller breakout discussions that covered the compelling reasons for menstruation-friendly workplaces, provided strategies for training and raising awareness and shared practical ideas and adjustments that can help.

 

Return to winning form – with the help of an Olympic champion

A highlight for delegates was hearing from Olympic champion Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill about the importance of tracking their menstrual cycle and the resources that are available to help women maximise their physical and mental performance.

 

“I know from personal experience how tracking your menstrual cycle and making adjustments to diet, sleep and activity can help you perform at your peak,” says Jessica.

 

“When I was an athlete, there simply was not enough education and information around ways to really understand your hormones and how to maximise your potential through simple lifestyle and fitness choices. I only really got to realise the power of my hormones when I had my son and started to return to elite sport. I had the support of an amazing performance team who did lots of research to enable me to get my body and mind back to winning form, but it was all too clear that very few women had access to this kind of information. It sent me on a journey of discovery, and a mission, to try to help others understand their cycle better and empower them to make the necessary changes to be their best at work and in all aspects of their lives.”

 

“As we have seen with menopause, it’s vital that employers engage in training and education across their organisations to break the taboo and normalise the conversation around menstrual health in the workplace,” says Deborah Garlick, founder of Henpicked: Menstruation Friendly. “A growing number of employers are now working towards being menstruation friendly with small, reasonable adjustments already making a positive impact. We hope to see many more follow their example to help employees realise their potential.”