Women’s health at work: challenges and solutions
Period pain at work
Some conditions, such as period pain and menopause, have a huge impact on the careers of many talented employees. They also impact the organisations that employ them.
Period pain and menopause affect women, trans men, and some non-binary and intersex people. Most of what we know about these conditions comes from studies in cis women and we’ve used these statistics in this article. Cisgender means your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned at birth.
What’s the impact?
Push for paid period leave
Some charities and campaigners are calling for the UK government to follow Spain and introduce paid menstrual leave.4 YouGov polling shows that 45% of people support this.5
Those most in favour of paid leave are:5
This has huge implications in the competition to recruit and retain talent.
More women in work
Research from the Research Foundation shows that the pandemic has seen more women enter the workforce, especially those with children under the age of three. It suggests working from home and hybrid working has made this possible. Compared to 44% in 1992, women now make up 48% of the workforce.6
Employment lawyers have identified menstrual leave as a key trend for employment law in 2023.7 The government put out a call for evidence for the Women’s Health Strategy for England. Almost half of the people who responded thought the strategy should include menstrual health.8
The Strategy, which was published last August, found that only 17% of respondents felt women had enough information on menstrual wellbeing. Many believed that health professionals were not listening to women.
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP, Dr Samantha Wild says,
“Women who took part in the consultation said they were often not listened to. Or they were told that heavy and painful periods are ‘normal'."
But heavy and painful periods can be a sign of more serious problems, such as endometriosis, a debilitating condition that affects one in 10 women.9
“Endometriosis is linked to fertility problems and is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK. Gynaecological refers to medical conditions that affect women. On average, women struggle with symptoms for eight years before they finally get a diagnosis.”9
She adds, “There is no cure, but that doesn’t mean women with endometriosis have to suffer in silence.”
Symptoms and strategies
“Depending on the severity of symptoms, age, fertility plans and medical history, there are a range of lifestyle, medical and surgical options that may help control the condition.”
Impact on career
However, a survey of 3,800 women found that 99% thought their symptoms negatively affected their career. These findings were presented to the Royal College of GP’s annual conference in 2021:13
Women deserve better
“Women deserve better. Lifestyle changes, simple workplace accommodations and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), can have a huge impact.”
Yet 91% of respondents to the Women’s Health Strategy thought women do not have enough information about the menopause. More than a third (36%) felt uncomfortable talking to healthcare professionals about their menopause symptoms.14
“There is a huge role for employers in addressing this. The first step should always be to start the conversation and find out what team members need.”
Period and menopause support
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are lots of simple adjustments that can make a big difference.”15
Support from Bupa
We can support your organisation with a wide range of resources and support for women and line managers including:
“Support for staff dealing with period pain and menopause symptoms should be a business priority. Organisations need to break old taboos and normalise conversations around these health issues. Those that offer effective support will have the edge when it comes to attracting and keeping talent.”
This is clear to see in data from the first year of Bupa’s Menopause Plan. It shows that almost nine in 10 women (88%) had reduced symptoms after receiving a personalised management plan.16
Resources and guides
2 Schoep ME, Adang EMM, Maas JWM, et al. Productivity loss due to menstruation-related symptoms: a nationwide cross-sectional survey among 32,748 women. BMJ Open 2019; 9:e026186. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026186
3 Bupa, 2017.
4 BBC News, 2022.
5 YouGov, 2022.
6 Resolution Foundation, 2021.
7 Keystone Law, 2023.
8 GOV UK, 2022.
9 Endometriosis UK, 2023.
10 NHS UK, 2022.
11 GOV UK (PDF, 0.2MB), 2015.
12 House of Commons (PDF, 0.8MB), page 17, 2022.
13 The Independent, 2021.
14 GOV UK (PDF, 0.8MB), 2022.
15 CIPD (PDF, 1MB), 2021.
16 Bupa Menopause Impact Report, 2022.