By Riannon Palmer, above, Managing Director, Lem-uhn
Periods. Menopause. Words that many people shy away from when they hear them in the workplace. However, natural parts of life for around half the workforce. With them come certain symptoms which can interrupt your day. However, due to the stigma still surrounding them, people often don’t feel like they can ask for adjustments or take time off for them.
As a female founder, I’d taken it for granted that employees would feel comfortable taking sick leave if they were experiencing severe period pain or choose to work from home if that would be more comfortable for them. However, I realised that without an official policy in place employees might feel like they aren’t able to do this.
I introduced a menstrual policy to make life easier for those who menstruate and be part of the change to normalise the conversation about a natural and inevitable part of life for half of the population. It also contributes to our mission to create a more positive work environment.
Lem-uhn was launched in 2021 as an alternative type of PR agency creating a happier type of workplace. 90% of PR professionals have experienced mental health issues compared to the UK average of 65% revealed a study. This needs to change. We’re building a better type of agency. Employees work their set hours only, something unheard of in the PR industry. We also have two wellness days that allow employees to take last-minute days off when life challenges arise. Our team socials often focus on endorphin fuelled activities, from puppy yoga and fitness classes to a water inflatable obstacle course.
Our menstrual policy entitles employees to paid leave for menstruation, menopause and miscarriage, in addition to our existing sick leave entitlements. Lem-uhn employees accrue an additional 10 days of paid personal leave per year for menstruation, menopause discomfort or in the event of a miscarriage. The entitlement is to be used if an employee is suffering from menstrual or menopause symptoms which interfere with their ability to work or in the event they suffer a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Staff are also able to request to work from where is most comfortable for them, whether that be within the office or from home if needed during their period or due to menopause symptoms.
Workplaces are failing half their workforce
From their early teens, there’s a stigma around periods that continues as individuals join the workforce. Three-quarters (74%) of those who experience periods feel it’s necessary to hide sanitary products at work found research from DPG.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create a positive working environment and make reasonable adjustments to ensure employee engagement, productivity and satisfaction. However, six in ten (60%) wom*n feel uncomfortable discussing the topic of menstruation at all with colleagues or managers the study revealed. While employees feel comfortable discussing more accepted health conditions, the stigma surrounding menstruation has led to employees feeling like it’s an unacceptable topic.
A lack of open conversation around menstruation is causing employees to lie about why they’ve taken time off. Almost a quarter (23%) of wom*n have taken time off due to their period in the last six months, however, more than a third (36%) lie about the real reason due to fear of embarrassment or judgment found Bupa.
After spending three decades of their working life with the symptoms and taboo around their period while at work, wom*n then face those related to menopause. Almost half (44%) experience three or more severe symptoms. Without adjustments at work, this can lead to detrimental consequences reducing the number of wom*n in the workforce. One in ten (10%) menopausal people who are or have been employed during the menopause have left their job due to their symptoms revealed the Menopause And The Workplace report.
Adjustments in the workplace for people experiencing menopause can be as simple as providing a more comfortable space in the office or providing a fan. However, without an open conversation and employees feeling that they can speak to their employer it can lead to disengagement and even people leaving the company.
Companies need to be the change they want to see
Periods and menopause are arguably one of the most natural health topics. It’s an inevitable part of life for half the population, yet a taboo subject. In part, this comes from it being something that not the entire population experience. For hundreds of years, it was a subject hidden from the ears of half of the population that didn’t experience it. This issue remains. A third (32%) of men feel it’s unprofessional to talk about periods at work found research by Initial Washroom Hygiene.
To build a diverse and inclusive company, there is a need to educate employees. From unconscious bias training and diversity and inclusivity awareness to alerting colleagues to the challenges facing their peers and the reasonable adjustments required to support them to do their job.
Productivity is at the centre of any successful company. With the current lack of menstrual policies, 40% of employees are less productive for 9% of the work year. Eight in 10 women feel less productive due to period symptoms for 23 days per year found a research study. Without a policy in place to allow for adjustments to working conditions, the nation is losing millions of pounds worth of productive time. Little adjustments such as being able to work from home or part of the office with a more comfortable set-up can support employees experiencing symptoms due to periods or menopause.
We used Victorian Women’s Trust’s Menstrual Workplace Policy insight as inspiration for our policy. The research found that offering staff members experiencing menstruation or menopause the option to work flexibly leads to greater productivity and a happier work environment. A menstrual policy is a win-win for both employees and employers. Our philosophy at Lem-uhn is that happier employees do better work and this is a prime example of it.