Alison Sneddon is an employment lawyer advising international employers on how to support their employees and manage their diversity, equality and inclusion strategies. Alison also studies hormonal health, nutrition and mindfulness techniques focused on biohacking the menstrual cycle.
Employers, and society, are learning a lot more about how hormonal changes impact us all on a day-to-day basis. Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last few years (which lockdown might have felt like!), you won’t have missed the campaigns for greater menopause support in the workplace. The conversation around employee health issues is broadening. A recent poll of 3,000 UK workers who menstruate found nine in 10 experienced stress or anxiety in the workplace relating to their period (Bloody Good Period). On average, people who menstruate spend seven years of their lifetime on their period. Clearly some of this is going to happen on work time (whether or not it’s expected!). What should employers do about this?
As one option, nothing. People who have periods have been handling their own business since the beginning of time, so why bring this into the workplace now? This is true, though introducing period dignity into the workplace has numerous benefits both from an employee and broader commercial perspective.
Period dignity in the workplace means creating a culture of openness and support for those who menstruate. So, what can you do to achieve this and how will this benefit employers and employees?
Supplying Menstrual Products
- A small, and relatively inexpensive, gesture to make employees more comfortable and avoid wasted time in last-minute dashes to a pharmacy! 68% of people who have periods surveyed by Hey Girls said they left work immediately if they got their period and did not have the right product at hand.
- Hey Girls offer bulk purchase options to businesses for the supply of period pads and tampons to workplace bathrooms as part of a Buy One Donate One pledge, where every product purchased is matched as a donation to more than 150 donation partners across the UK. This is much more practical than paid vending machine products (let’s face it, finding a spare pound for a trolley at the supermarket is stressful enough – never mind when at work, in between meetings and during an unexpected menstruation). Plus, this initiative aligns with broader environmental and social goals:
- Charitable: Hey Girls supports charities working to end period poverty (more than a third of girls in the UK aged 14 to 21 struggled to afford period products during the pandemic) and is also supplying menstrual products to Ukrainian refugees. Charitable support can help create a workplace that employees feel is aligned to their values and improve employee engagement.
- Environmental: All Hey Girls products are sustainable and biodegradable – and they have a range of reusable products popular with their donation partners. You can find out more about Hey Girls’ green credentials here.
Employee Health & Wellbeing Initiatives
- The menstrual cycle has been badged the fifth vital health sign (following body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate and blood pressure). Despite this vital status, and it being part of the cycle that brought everyone to this planet, it remains globally a taboo topic and education surrounding it is limited.
- In a 2020 survey, 59% of the 3,000 respondent workers said that they want more information from their employers on what could be done to support them with their menstruation (Bloody Good Period).
Employers open to doing so can benefit from:
- Increased employee engagement and morale, as reported by Hey Girls clients who have run period dignity campaigns and awareness workshops.
- Improved employee health & wellbeing, by signposting where employees can get access to support (i.e. healthcare providers who can offer guidance on hormonal health) to alleviate symptoms.
Removing the Stigma
- The stigma surrounding menstruation can leave people feeling they need to hide their symptoms or that they cannot ask for support. A 2021 survey of more than 2,400 women found 26% felt that period pain or pre-menstrual symptoms were not considered by as a legitimate reason to take time off sick their employer. Some people who have periods use annual leave instead of sickness absence to take time to manage their symptoms. This can result in an unbalanced support system where people who have periods with legitimate health issues do not utilise benefits and support available (such as sickness absence or guidance from private medical providers), unlike employees suffering with less taboo health matters. The growing awareness in this area has led to plans for Spain to introduce specific menstrual leave with the aim of supporting employees during their period. Everyone’s experience of menstruation differs and this is not a suggestion that monthly sickness absence should become the norm. However, it’s worth noting that when people who have periods refer to ‘period pain’ and ‘pre-menstrual symptoms’ these can actually be tip of the iceberg symptoms relating to a broad range of health issues, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (which affects approximately 10% of women), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder – with symptoms that can include depression and suicidal feelings.
- Employers who are open to discussing the support employees need can look to benefit from an improved workplace culture and potentially lower ad-hoc absence levels (i.e. by being openly flexible and/or encouraging employees to seek medical support to manage symptoms). Supportive line managers, an awareness of menstrual symptoms when managing sickness absence and providing information on menstrual support that can be offered (i.e. via healthcare providers) all contribute towards creating this open culture.
There are numerous success stories of improved employee morale and engagement from employers who have worked with Hey Girls on their period dignity campaigns, including Wilmott Dickson, Wates Multiplex, Body Shop, Heathrow Airport, Nationwide and TLT Solicitors. If you would like to find out more about providing period dignity in your workplace, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.