More than a million women mask period sick days each year because they feel unable to tell their boss the true reason for their absence.
The latest research revealed in the Bupa Wellbeing Index, shows that one in eight (13%) women have taken time off work in the last 12 months due to symptoms linked to periods, with a third (35%) gave a different reason when requesting the time away.
Almost half (47%) of women who have periods experience severe period pain most months. However, just a fifth (19%) have felt comfortable to take a sick day and openly say it was due to their period pain. Many others also battle regular symptoms like nausea (31%) and headaches or migraines (48%).
Two in five (42%) women push through their pain despite experiencing severe period symptoms, but commonly report feelings of exhaustion (41%), discomfort with period pain (37%), and making frequent bathroom trips due to heavy bleeding (30%).
Sadly, nearly half (45%) of women don’t feel a period is a valid enough reason to call in sick and around a third feel embarrassed (34%) or are concerned that their employer won’t understand (31%).
And even when women do take time off work due to their period related symptoms, many still find it difficult to have open conversations about it. More than a third (35%) of these women take sick leave because of severe period pain but give a different reason for their absence to their employers. These figures suggest a lack of progress in terms of addressing the stigma around periods, largely mirroring Bupa data from six years ago showing over a third of women (36%) feel they can’t be honest with manager when missing work for period-related reasons.
This stigma seems to be partly due to a culture of silence continuing in workplaces – as 38% of women reveal that periods aren’t talked about at all where they work and a third (32%) feel they can’t openly discuss their periods while at work. Even in companies where period health is discussed, outdated views continue, with a quarter (23%) of women saying that the subject is often raised in a negative light.
Women suffering from severe period symptoms need to take around five days off sick each year as a result. Across the UK, this means nearly 17 million sick days are taken for periods every year.
Sarah Melia, General Manager at Bupa Health Services said: “Women need companies to foster a workplace culture where they feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly about what they are experiencing. If companies are unable to do this, then productivity will slip, and they’ll lose the ability to attract and retain key talent. Women make up 48% of the UK workforce and it’s essential we support them to thrive.
“Education, flexible working and access to healthcare services are three ways companies can help women in their workplace manage heavy and painful periods, reducing sick days and retaining employees. This is why we launched our Bupa Period Plan, to support women to get personalised care for their periods and this is something businesses can offer to their employees.
“I’m delighted to announce that we’ve just launched our Bupa Period Plan for free to all our colleagues at Bupa. This shows our continued commitment to our people, helping them to access the support they need, as and when it is needed.”
A lack of awareness about the related symptoms many women experience during their period seems to be a factor in workplace attitudes. Just under a fifth (18%) of those who have periods feel more training should be in place for managers. Similarly, women are keen to see more concrete period health policies in their workplace, including free sanitary products (36%), clearly signposted days off for period health (30%), and access to services to support periods – such as GP appointments (19%).