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Woman who left high-flying job due to endometriosis calls for more support for menstrual health in the workplace

A new report from the CIPD has found that more than two thirds (69%) of women in the UK have a negative experience at work because of their menstruation symptoms

Sophie Richards

A woman from Carmarthen is calling for more workplace support for menstrual health after quitting her dream job due to lack of understanding and support from her employer around her endometriosis condition.

This call comes as the CIPD releases its Menstruation and support at work report, which surveyed more than 2,000 women and found that more than two thirds (69%) of women in the UK have a negative experience at work because of their menstruation symptoms.

Sophie Richards, 26, was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 21 following a five-year struggle with chronic paid, bloating and irregular cycles before her condition was recognised by medical professionals.

Receiving her official diagnosis while studying at University, Sophie was told the condition was chronic and was advised the best course of action to relieve symptoms would be to have a hysterectomy.

Side-lining that decision until she had graduated from University, Sophie sought additional medical advice from a specialist. Speaking on this, Sophie said: “I was fortunate enough to be able to seek further advice from an endometriosis specialist, who actually told me a hysterectomy wouldn’t have helped at all, and what I needed was a further two operations.

“Fast forward a few years later, and I’d discovered how to manage my condition by a cycle led strategy, something I still live by today. I went on to land my absolute dream graduate scheme at a company I’d set my sights on when leaving university, and I was really lucky to have a line manager who was happy to offer support and flexibility in helping me manage my condition in the workplace. Sadly, this manager moved on and was replaced by someone new who wasn’t willing to even consider continuing the same support I had previously.

“It was at this time when I was also going through a fertility treatment, something which required me to self-inject hormones throughout the working day and store medication at a specific temperature. I was aware that some employers do accommodate sanitary fridges and specific rooms for people to administer injections in, but my company didn’t offer this. I was also told working from home wasn’t an option for me by my manager, even suggesting I store my medication in the general kitchen fridge, which left me no choice but to leave my job if I wanted to continue with my life-changing treatment.”

Sophie is one of thousands of people across the UK who have had a negative experience at work because of their menstruation symptoms or conditions. The survey conducted by the CIPD found that just one in ten (12%) women say that their organisation provides support for menstruation and menstrual health conditions.

In response to its findings, the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, is calling on organisations to create awareness, tackle the stigma associated with menstruation and train managers to be confident, comfortable and inclusive when talking to employees about menstrual health.

The most common symptoms reported include abdominal cramps (60%), irritability (52%), fatigue (49%) and bloating (49%) but there are a wide range of symptoms experienced. Of those who experienced symptoms, four-fifths (61%) said they had worked when they didn’t feel well enough to, and one in five (20%) took sick leave.

The report findings make it clear that some menstruation symptoms can have a serious and negative impact on the careers of those who experience it. In fact:

  • 63% felt less able to concentrate
  • Half (50%) felt an increased amount of stress
  • 49% felt less patient with colleagues or clients
  • 38% said they felt less confident at work

As well as the more common symptoms of menstruation, 15% of women said they also had a menstrual health condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or endometriosis. Of the employees who have a formal diagnosis of such a condition, 81% said that menstruation symptoms have had a negative impact on them at work.

The report also highlights that, despite 53% of women surveyed being unable to attend work at some point in their career because of menstruation symptoms, nearly half (49%) said they never tell their manager the absence is related to their menstrual cycle.

When asked why they didn’t feel able to say why they were not able to go into work, the report finds that 45% of women felt that the problem would be trivialized and 43% felt embarrassed.

Lesley Richards, head of the CIPD in Wales, said:

Our latest report on menstruation and support at work underscores the need for a more empathetic and understanding working environment. Menstruation is a natural part of many employees’ lives, and it shouldn’t be a barrier to success or well-being.

“Employers can greatly improve the working lives of employees who experience menstruation symptoms by creating inclusive, supportive work environments and training managers to have a better understanding of the impact it can have. A lot can be done without huge cost to businesses including the adoption of more flexible working practices and signposting to external resources.”