Over a million women continue to hide period sick days

By Kate Norris,
updated on Feb 14, 2024

Over a million women continue to hide period sick days

New research from Bupa reveals that more than a million women mask period sick days each year because they don’t feel comfortable telling employers the true reason for their absence

The discussion around women's health in the workplace has improved significantly in recent years. However, despite changing attitudes towards important subjects such as menopause, new research reveals over a million women continue to hide period-related sick days annually because they don't feel comfortable disclosing the true reason for their absence to their employers.

Research from the latest Bupa Wellbeing Index reveals one in every eight (13%) women has taken time off work in the last year due to period-related symptoms, with a third (35%) citing a different reason when requesting time away. 

Periods can have a significant impact on wellbeing, with almost half of women (47%) experiencing severe period pain at least once a month and only one-fifth (19%) feeling comfortable taking a sick day due to period pain. Unfortunately, nearly half (45%) of women believe a period is not a valid reason to call in sick, and approximately one-third are embarrassed (34%) or concerned that their employer would not understand (31%).

The reluctance to discuss menstrual health appears to be partly due to the ongoing stigma and culture of silence in the workplace, with 38% of women reporting that periods are never discussed at work. In companies where menstrual health is considered, a disheartening 23% report that the topic is often approached negatively.

Sarah Melia, General Manager at Bupa Health Services, highlights the importance of creating a workplace environment where women feel empowered to openly share their experiences. She encourages initiatives such as education, flexible work arrangements, and improved access to healthcare. 

“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.” 

Worryingly, the findings also highlight a lack of understanding about period-related symptoms with 18% of women suggesting the need for additional training for managers. Many women were keen for more period health policies in their workplaces, including provisions for free sanitary products (36%), clearly designated days off for menstrual health (30%), and access to supportive services such as GP appointments (19%).

In response to the survey, healthcare company Bupa has introduced the Period Plan, a complimentary health and wellbeing benefit for all UK employees. The programme provides personalised support for individuals experiencing heavy, painful, or irregular periods and is accessible to anyone aged 18 and above who struggles with their menstrual cycle. The plan includes a 45-minute consultation with a GP, along with a follow-up appointment and advice for an entire year.

Useful resources:

  • The Period Dignity scheme helps employers and businesses to cultivate period equality and dignity in the workplace, whilst also aiming to break down the stigma surrounding menstrual health. 
  • The Bloody Good Employers is a UK charity dedicated to advocating for menstrual equity and women's rights. Their main goal is to assist workplaces in creating a more supportive environment regarding menstrual health for employees. 
  • Freedom4Girls is committed to supporting those who menstruate by challenging stigmas and gender inequalities commonly associated with menstruation. 

If your menstrual cycle is affecting your mental health and you want support, you can find a therapist at Counselling Directory. For more information on how you can support your body through menstruation with nutrition, visit Nutritionist Resource.

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