The Harsh Reality of Periods in the Workplace

Menstruation is a natural part of life for many women and people with periods, yet it remains a significant source of stress, stigma, and discomfort in the workplace. Employers often overlook or do not understand the implications of periods at work, leading to repeated issues for employees. Recent surveys by CIPD, Free The Tampons, Bloody Good Period and WaterAid highlight the struggles faced by menstruating employees and underscore the urgent need for workplace reforms to address menstrual health.

The Impact of Menstrual Symptoms

A CIPD survey of 2,000 women aged 18-60 found that 80% experienced menstrual symptoms, with over two-thirds reporting a negative impact on their work. Common symptoms include abdominal cramps (60%), irritability (52%), fatigue (49%), bloating (49%), and low mood (47%). Despite the prevalence of these symptoms, nearly half of those who took leave due to menstrual issues did not disclose the real reason to their managers, fearing trivialisation or embarrassment. This highlights the pervasive stigma and lack of understanding surrounding menstrual health.

This survey also highlighted the impact menstrual symptoms can have on productivity and career progression, with 53% of respondents reporting they had to miss work due to their symptoms, and 12% felt their career had been negatively affected by menstrual health issues. The effect is even more pronounced for those with diagnosed (81%) or self-diagnosed (82%) menstrual conditions. For some, heavy bleeding requires frequent trips to the restroom and managing menstrual flow can cause anxiety and distraction, impacting work performance.

Employees can work more efficiently when menstrual health needs are met. A study by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that supporting menstrual health can lead to a 15% increase in productivity.

Accessibility Barriers

While some people pride themselves on being extremely regular with their periods, this may not be the case for most people. Periods can start unexpectedly, and individuals do not always have supplies on hand. A survey by Free the Tampons found that 86% of people have started their periods in public without the supplies they needed. This can lead to:

  • Asking colleagues for help
  • Leaving work to buy supplies, with 34% of respondents immediately going home and 62% going to a shop
  • Creating makeshift tampons or pads out of toilet paper
  • Possible bleeding through clothing, causing unwarranted shame and embarrassment

Financial Barriers & Period Poverty

Period poverty refers to the struggle to access or afford proper menstrual hygiene products. Menstruation can place significant financial strain on individuals. A survey by Bloody Good Period in 2021 found that 24% of respondents reported struggling to afford period products in the previous year, with 13% anticipating similar difficulties the following year. Most women and girls will have 12-13 periods per year, with some using up to 22 tampons and/or pads per cycle. Overall annual costs of period products for individual women, including pain relief, can be estimated at a minimum of €121. This financial burden forces some to use makeshift materials, compromising their health and dignity.

Stigma and Cultural Barriers

The stigma surrounding menstruation remains a significant barrier to open discussions in the workplace. A Financial Services Union survey revealed that 49% of respondents are uncomfortable discussing menstrual health issues at work, and 69% are particularly uncomfortable if their manager is of a different gender. The WaterAid survey of 2,000 British women highlighted that 85% experience stress or anxiety managing their periods at work. Common concerns include fear of leakage (43%), painful periods (42%), and heavy bleeding (40%). Nearly one in five cannot take time off for menstrual problems, and 10% cited unsupportive management as a stress factor. Additionally, 63% feel embarrassed discussing their periods at work, and 48% hide their period products en route to the toilet. Only 3% believe employers are doing enough to support menstrual health.

The Benefits of Introducing Menstrual Policies

  • Improved Productivity: Employees can work more efficiently when menstrual health needs are met. A study by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that supporting menstrual health can lead to a 15% increase in productivity.
  • Reduced Absenteeism: Providing support can reduce the number of sick days taken for menstrual-related issues. In the UK, menstrual symptoms contribute to an average of 8 days of lost productivity per woman per year (BMC Women’s Health).
  • Enhanced Employee Satisfaction: Acknowledging and supporting menstrual health improves job satisfaction and loyalty. According to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 60% of employees feel more positively about their employer when menstrual health is supported.
  • Increased ROI: Healthier, happier employees contribute more effectively to the company’s success. The Department of Health and Social Care in the UK estimates that every £1 invested in employee health and wellbeing yields a return of £4 in reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Recommendations for Employers

To address these challenges, several recommendations have been proposed:

  • Build an Inclusive Culture: Encourage open dialogue about menstruation to normalise the conversation and reduce stigma.
  • Awareness and Education: Conduct awareness campaigns and training sessions to educate all employees about menstrual health and its impact on well-being.
  • Support Framework: Develop comprehensive support systems, including access to period products and flexible working arrangements.
  • Manager Training: Train managers to handle menstrual health discussions with sensitivity and confidentiality.
  • Compassionate Absence Management: Implement policies that allow for flexible and compassionate management of absences related to menstrual health.


Addressing menstrual health in the workplace is not just about improving individual well-being but also about fostering a more inclusive, productive, and supportive work environment. By taking proactive steps to support employees who menstruate, employers can significantly enhance overall workplace morale and efficiency. Ensuring menstrual health is prioritised can lead to a healthier, more supportive, and equitable workplace for all employees. 

By implementing these changes, employers can demonstrate their commitment to gender equality and the well-being of their workforce, ultimately benefiting both employees and the organisation as a whole.


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