If period pains and PMS symptoms remain ‘taboo’ in the workplace, perhaps citing this as a reason for absence carries with it some stigma that makes employees reluctant to share. Normalising period pains – and discussions about them – may therefore be the most important barrier to overcome.
Employers are clearly not doing enough. Reducing the stigma of PMS and period pains could help to boost employee engagement, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.
There’s currently no legal right to ‘period leave’ in the UK, in contrast with countries such as Japan and South Korea who introduced such measures over 50 years ago. However, take-up of this legal right by employees in those countries has, arguably, decreased with wider changes in attitudes and increased protection for employees in the workplace.
Employers can improve their overall approach to short or intermittent absences and help tackle those factors which appear to have exacerbated the concerns of employees when absent by reason of period pains. To do this, employers should:
1. Be empathetic and supportive
Employers should combat judgmental and prejudicial behaviour in the workplace surrounding period pains. Managers could be better trained on handling return to work interviews to ensure employees are aware the forum is a safe space and an opportunity to understand and explore.
2. Act reasonably
Employers should always act in accordance with their absence policy and remain reasonable when addressing short or intermittent absences. When assessing for signs of an underlying medical condition, managers should take notice of patterns which indicate heightened period pains, such as monthly absences for one or two days. Employers too should consider again their policy and procedure for reporting absence, especially where absence trigger points are utilised.
3. Be flexible
PMS symptoms and period pains will affect employees in different ways. Employers should consider the facilities available in the workplace and adjustments to an employee’s role e.g. working hours, requests to occasionally work remotely etc. Employers can help create a positive working environment by being open and flexible if, and when, period pains are cited by the employee as their reason for absence.
What can be evidenced from the survey is a broad lack of trust, awareness, and empathy in the workplace about employee absence by reason of period pains. The absence policy followed, the procedure for reporting, and the approach taken by managers at return to work interviews, could be the reason why this remains a problem.
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