Around half of the workforce will go through menstruation and menopause at some point in their lives. But how often does anyone talk about these issues in the workplace? It’s certainly not standard for managers to broach topics like menstruation and menopause at work.
If we don’t talk about them though, there’s no way employers can understand the true scope of the problem.
Obviously, it’s not a business’s job to find treatments or a cure-all for any sort of health issue.
But, when employees spend more waking time working than with their loved ones, a little accommodation can go a long way to making them feel appreciated, understood, and supported.
Which is why businesses need to do more to support those who experience periods, pregnancy, miscarriages, and menopause at work. But with so little understanding around them, how can they?
For most people who menstruate, periods are a monthly occurrence. For those who battle conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), periods can be irregular and/or incredibly painful.
And healthcare practitioners don’t always take this seriously—it takes an average of eight years to get an endometriosis diagnosis, despite the significant pain and fatigue it can cause.
There are over 200 symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—not including PCOS or endometriosis symptoms—although nobody has done an official count because there are so many and it’s so different for everyone.
Things like pregnancy and stress can transform someone’s experience of PMS and any other menstruation-related conditions, temporarily or permanently. And yes, workplace stress can be one of those triggers.
There are still many people who don’t want to talk about menstruation and stop the conversation as soon as you mention the P word.
One of the best things you can do to support someone who’s menstruating is to offer them flexible working options.
For instance, the average workplace temperature is based on the metabolism of a 150-pound, 40-year-old man. So, it might feel comfortable for some of the team. But it probably won’t for most of them. And it certainly wouldn’t for a petite female menstruating, as they may well feel cold differently—especially on their period.
Allowing employees to work from home, at hours that work for them, means they can get things done in an environment they’re in control of. And this can make a huge difference.
They can have a hot water bottle when they need it; turn the temperature up or down; grab painkillers when they need them; more easily visit their doctor.
These are simple things that can improve an employee’s quality of life. The main thing they require is a culture of trust.
Yet many businesses fail to consider how these changes can improve the quality of work someone produces, in addition to boosting their happiness and reducing employee churn.
While it may be illegal to ask someone if they’re pregnant or plan to get pregnant when hiring, that doesn’t mean some businesses don’t still subconsciously use it as a deciding factor when hiring women of child-bearing age. Which is insane.
Pregnancy causes many changes in someone’s mind and body, some of which are permanent. It can also affect how they want to work.
Being flexible and allowing future mothers to attend doctor’s appointments without question also means they have one less stressful thing to worry about.
You could even go one step further—if you know someone’s partner is pregnant, allow them to go to appointments, too. This not only provides the pregnant person with moral support but also shows your employee that you value them and care about their life outside of their job.
So-called “mommy brain,” is a regular occurrence because of changes in the brain after someone gives birth. This can impact how they want to approach work, and even what the best working environment for them is.
There’s also a common saying that suggests that at work, women should pretend they don’t have a child, and at home, pretend they don’t work. In a constant, always-on world, with many people now working remotely, this just is almost impossible.
It’s therefore important to be mindful of this and ask people what they need when working while pregnant, and when they return after maternity leave.
They may not always know, so be prepared to do your own research, too. Consider what other businesses have done successfully, or what other parents have requested in the past.
Researchers estimate that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Ectopic or molar pregnancies are less common, but the numbers are just as significant. Some people may go through multiple losses.
Some employees won’t be comfortable talking about their loss in the workplace because they’re embarrassed, keep things private, or they’re worried about discrimination.
Even if you’ve experienced miscarriage yourself, remember that everyone’s experiences are different. And so are their needs.
When talking to employees who’ve experienced this type of loss, approach it from a place of empathy and understanding. Let there be silences; don’t try to fill in the gaps.
You don’t have to say or do anything profound; simply acknowledging their loss can be a source of comfort and support.
When more than 40% of women report they’ve considered leaving their jobs due to menopause symptoms and the lack of support from their employer, there’s obviously a massive gap. A gap in knowledge for what’s needed, and possibly a gap in productivity as these health issues aren’t given the time and consideration they require.
Menopause can last a decade, but there’s still a taboo when it comes to talking about it, sometimes even among female relatives.
People who experience menopause often feel uncomfortable sharing their symptoms in the workplace in case they’re stigmatized. Yet, out of all the areas in someone’s life, menopause is most likely to impact their job.
Physical and psychosocial factors play into this, which is why an open dialogue is so important. If people feel like they can talk about menopause at work, and especially to their manager, they’re less likely to suffer, and they’ll perform better in their role, too.
Supporting people through menstruation, miscarriage, pregnancy, and menopause at work is an important part of managing a diverse workforce. But it’s often a neglected one.
It starts by researching these experiences and considering how best you can help your employees.
Knowledge and awareness are really key to supporting employees as their minds and bodies change in ways they can’t control.
It can also help to create policies on these experiences, as well as having, and making sure every manager is aware of, your compassionate leave policy. That way, managers know exactly what’s expected of them and employees are aware of how their employer will support them.
Setting up a focus group with your women’s ERG can be a great starting point. Members can advise on ways the organization can better accommodate health issues like menstruation and menopause at work.
If you’re interested in an easier way to manage and measure initiatives like ERGs, focus groups, and more, come visit us over at workrowd.com. We’ve got a slew of tools to support you, along with best practice guides and resources. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more.