Menstruation directly affects around half of the workforce every month, so employers should prepare for the impact of this natural part of the menstrual cycle. However, periods are unfortunately often still a taboo topic in the workplace, which can make employees feel uncomfortable discussing their menstrual cycles with their colleagues or management. This in turn can lead to some workers suffering in silence as they attempt to manage the pain throughout their work day.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case, as there are many simple solutions employers can put in place to ensure their team members feel comfortable and supported throughout their menstrual cycle. Here, I’ll explain how menstruation and the menstrual cycle can impact employees and share my tips on how employers can make the workplace as comfortable as possible for them.
How can the menstrual cycle impact people at work?
The part of the cycle most likely to impact your employees is menstruation itself, which can cause a variety of symptoms. These of course differ from person to person, but some of the most common side effects of this part of the cycle include; abdominal cramping, nausea and digestive upset, bloating, backache, fatigue, and changes in mood. The discomfort caused by these symptoms can understandably make work difficult for some employees, and potentially impossible for those with more severe symptoms. In a study conducted by the UVA School of Medicine, 45.2% of respondents reported needing to take time off work due to the symptoms of their period.
Some workers may also be impacted in other parts of their cycle. For example, PMS or PMDD, which can occur in the luteal stage of a person’s cycle, can have a significant impact on the individual’s mental health and make it difficult for them to fully concentrate on their workload, while some can experience pain during the ovulation phase.
4 ways managers can help menstruating employees
Have a more thorough understanding of menstrual conditions
This is a good place to start when it comes to supporting employees with their menstrual cycles, as having a more detailed understanding of what your workers are going through will make it easier to find appropriate solutions. Even if you’re an employer who experiences menstruation yourself, the symptoms and severity differ from person to person, so it’s still worth getting a comprehensive understanding of the menstrual cycle.
You can start by learning more about each phase of the menstrual cycle, as well as getting a good understanding of the most common symptoms and how they may impact your workers. For example, severe cramping may make it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. You may also want to delve deeper by looking at some of the more common conditions relating to the menstrual cycle, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, PCOS, and PMDD. These conditions are more common than many of us think — endometriosis, for example, affects roughly 10% of people assigned female at birth — and can cause extreme symptoms throughout the menstrual cycle.
Keep the office stocked with period essentials
A small but thoughtful gesture which is sure to be appreciated is having ample supplies for keeping employees comfortable while menstruating. Not only can this help them feel much more comfortable throughout the workday, but it also means they won’t have to lug their own period essentials back and forth to the office. This can also help you set your workplace aside from other offices, as research by Motionspot has found that 48% of employees surveyed don’t have access to their chosen method of pain relief in the office.
There are a number of period essentials you can keep in stock, including those more commonly found in offices, such as sanitary pads, tampons, and a selection of painkillers, as well as less commonly supplied options, including heat pads and patches, hot water bottles, soothing herbal teas for cramps, and supportive cushions to make sitting at the desk more comfortable.
Create a designated well-being room
If you have some spare space in your office, a designated well-being room can be a big help for those experiencing discomfort at any point in their menstrual cycle. Some people experiencing menstruation can find sitting difficult, plus the fatigue can take its toll on the body. Simply having a dark and quiet area with space to lie down can make a significant impact and make the office much more appealing for workers on their period.
It can also be beneficial in managing the mental health impacts many experience throughout their cycle. Research by Bloody Good Period has found that 89% of employees surveyed experienced anxiety or stress in the workplace due to their period, plus millions experience the mental impact of PMS and PMDD every month. By having an area dedicated to relaxation, you can help your employees manage this stress throughout the day. As well as being a good addition for employees who are menstruating, a well-being room can be beneficial to all of your team as it can be the perfect place to unwind during particularly busy periods.
Consider offering menstrual leave or flexible working
No matter how comfortable you make the office for those experiencing menstruation, sometimes symptoms can become so severe that coming into the workplace, or even working remotely, is not possible. For instances like these, you may want to consider offering menstrual leave. While it is not necessarily different to any other form of sick leave, providing menstrual leave may make workers feel more comfortable taking the time off as there can still be a stigma attached to being off work for periods. In fact, a survey by HR Magazine discovered that over a quarter of respondents feared their managers would not consider PMS or period symptoms as legitimate reasons to take time off work.
You may also want to consider having a flexible working policy in place for employees who may not need to take a full day off but would benefit from the flexibility to start a few hours later or make up their hours on a different day. This will allow your employees to work at a comfortable pace and ensure they can take some time to rest if necessary.
Menstrual cycles are a natural part of life that millions of people experience every month, including your own workers. By helping your employees who experience menstrual cycles feel comfortable and supported in the office, you can boost team morale and make your workplace feel like a safe space for your workers.
Sally Evans, based in London, GB, is currently a Director of Operations at Making Moves London Ltd, bringing experience from previous roles at Making Moves London Ltd, Give A Grad A Go and Viridor.