In a study conducted by the Bupa Wellbeing Index, it has come to light that over a million women choose to conceal the true reason behind their sick days, opting not to disclose their period-related symptoms to their employers.

The survey, reflecting the experiences of women in the workforce, exposes the challenges women face in openly discussing menstrual health issues at the workplace.

The statistics show that a significant portion, 35 percent, of women feel compelled to conceal the real cause when taking a sick day due to severe period symptoms.

The reluctance to disclose is attributed to various factors, with 45 percent unsure if period-related symptoms are considered a valid reason to call in sick, 34 percent feeling embarrassed, and 31 percent expressing concerns that their employers will not understand.

Annually, a staggering 16.7 million sick days are taken due to symptoms linked to periods, averaging five days per woman. Despite the prevalence of severe period pain, nausea, headaches, and migraines among women, only 19 percent openly admit to taking a sick day specifically for period-related reasons.

Powering through the pain

A disheartening 42 percent of women choose to power through their pain, reporting feelings of exhaustion, discomfort, and frequent bathroom trips due to heavy bleeding. The reluctance to take sick leave is fuelled by the belief that a period is not a valid enough reason (45%), embarrassment (34%), and the fear of being misunderstood by employers (31%).

Moreover, when women do take time off due to period-related symptoms, a concerning 35 percent provide an alternate reason for their absence, highlighting a persistent stigma surrounding the issue. This trend echoes Bupa data from six years ago, indicating a lack of progress in dispelling the stigma around discussing periods in the workplace.

The silence around periods in workplaces appears to contribute to the ongoing stigma, as 38 percent of women reveal that periods are not discussed at all in their workplace. Furthermore, in companies where period health is addressed, 23 percent of women report negative discussions on the subject.

The impact of severe period symptoms on productivity is significant, with women requiring an average of five sick days per year. Across the UK, this translates to nearly 17 million sick days taken annually for period-related reasons.

Is flexible working the answer?

Addressing these challenges, Sarah Melia, General Manager at Bupa Health Services, emphasises the need for companies to cultivate a workplace culture where women feel comfortable discussing their experiences openly. She advocates for education, flexible working, and access to healthcare services, citing the recently launched Bupa Period Plan as a step towards supporting women in managing heavy and painful periods.

Melia states, “Women make up 48 percent of the UK workforce, and it’s essential we support them to thrive. Our Bupa Period Plan, offered free to all our colleagues at Bupa, underscores our commitment to providing necessary support for our people, ensuring they can access the care they need when they need it.”

The survey also highlights a lack of awareness about period-related symptoms, with 18 percent of women suggesting the need for more training for managers. Women express a desire for concrete period health policies in the workplace, including free sanitary products (36%), clearly signposted days off for period health (30%), and access to services supporting periods, such as GP appointments (19%).

 

 

 

 

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Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.