April is Premenstrual Disorders Awareness Month, highlights Clare-Louise Knox, Are you aware that one in 20 of your female colleagues are likely to be grappling with PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).

In my research as a Business Psychologist, I have been shocked to find that many women ‘shut up and put up’ with the monthly anguish caused by PMDD and other menstrual health disorders, regardless of the physical and emotional pain they may be experiencing.

It goes without saying that these conditions can make work particularly difficult for a number of reasons. In some cases, this is extreme. Some of the psychological symptoms of PMDD include depression, thoughts of suicide and panic attacks.

Sadly, 30 percent of women with the disorder will actually attempt suicide in their lifetime (source: IAPMD). Yet, when was the last time you heard anyone talk about PMDD in your workplace? Had you even heard of it before reading this article?

Social taboo and stigma

A large majority of women are afraid to discuss these issues at work. Some women refer to the societal taboo and stigma surrounding periods and menstrual health; others talk about a lack of empathy and understanding from their manager; many are afraid that they will lose their job; and a significant proportion cite fear of being perceived as weak or incompetent as a reason for not seeking support.

On a few (rare) occasions, I have heard stories of helpful, empathetic employers. But unfortunately, these are very few and far between. I frequently hear of women crying in the toilet, locking themselves away in their office for fear of saying the wrong thing, having panic attacks on the way to work due to unbearable anxiety, being put on capability measures as a result of menstrual related absence, leaving organisations due to lack of support…the list goes on.

Failure to address women’s health in the workplace is likely to result in many more talented women being forced to leave the workforce.

So, how can we spark change for menstrual health in the workplace?

1. Create a culture of open dialogue around female-related health:

Nominate a champion or ambassador for female health in your organisation and communicate this to the whole workforce. Give employees the opportunity to meet with others to share and discuss their health concerns in the form of a regular ‘meet up’

It is also important to recognise and celebrate women’s health at relevant points in the year e.g. PMD Awareness Month, International Women’s Day.

Select a women’s health cause as your organisation’s nominated charity, and provide training on ‘how to have difficult conversations’ in the workplace.

You could also encourage staff (particularly leaders and managers) to share their experiences and personal challenges.

2. Raise awareness of women’s health in the workplace:

Provide workplace training on female-related health conditions- this is particularly important for Managers and HR professionals in order to equip them with the knowledge and skills to support employees. You could also invite guest speakers to deliver talks, presentations or workshops to staff.

You could also provide coverage of women’s health conditions in internal communications e.g. newsletters, and introduce a six week ‘women’s health’ initiative, with a different focus each week.

3. Implement supportive policies and practices:

Make sure reproductive health issues are recognised and supported in policy. This does not have to be a specific menstrual or menopause policy; it is about making sure your existing policies consider and include these issues, explicitly. For example, does your current sickness absence policy discriminate against women with reproductive and genealogical health conditions who may face regular/frequent absence from work?

It is also important to treat each case individually – a one size fits all approach is not appropriate or effective for these conditions. Be clear on how you will support and manage employees with reproductive or genealogical health conditions – uncertainty and ambiguity around ‘what happens next?’ can exacerbate anxiety for employees.

Also, provide opportunities for flexible working, including working from home, flexi-time and job sharing, and give employees autonomy over diary/task management – many women living with these conditions organise their time and workload based on how they are likely to be feeling at certain times in the month – they know this better than anyone.

You could also implement a return to work programme to support women after absence – this may be due to ongoing health concerns or in some cases, surgery, and ensure staff have access to quiet workspaces.


Clare-Louise Knox is the director and founder of See Her Thrive, a leading gender equity consultancy, as a result of her own experiences living and working with a menstrual health condition.