There is still a negative stigma surrounding menstruation at work, research from Initial Washroom Hygiene confirms. The research also suggests that menstrual hygiene products should be viewed as washroom essentials to support employee wellbeing.

The survey of 2000 office workers found there is a real fear of having open conversations about how periods affect women at work. A third (32%) of male office workers feel it is unprofessional for women to talk about their period in the workplace, while the women polled said they would feel more comfortable public speaking, admitting they had made a mistake at work, going through a job interview, or providing romantic advice to colleagues, rather than discussing their period in the presence of male colleagues. More than half (53%) of females also said they would be reluctant to call in sick to work due to period-related symptoms or discuss these symptoms with their manager (48%).

“Normalising conversations about menstrual cycles and how they affect women is vital to achieving period dignity and a diverse workforce,” said Sian Walkling, Marketing Manager at Initial Washroom Hygiene. “Female employees shouldn’t feel embarrassed talking about menstrual hygiene in the office, especially when they find themselves faced with a situation they may not be prepared for.

“The fact that a third of men think a grown-up discussion about menstrual hygiene is unprofessional, and that almost half of women feel uncomfortable discussing this element of their wellness with their manager, shows how much work needs to be done.”

The research also found that close to half (46%) of women say they feel uncomfortable taking menstrual hygiene products (such as tampons or sanitary pads) out of their handbags or desks in front of colleagues. A similar number (40%) also claim to have used a menstrual hygiene product for longer than medically advised. The most common reason cited for this was a lack of access to a replacement product (45%). Despite this, only a third (34%) would feel comfortable asking their colleague for one.

Tina Leslie, Founder of Freedom4Girls, a UK-registered charity fighting period poverty, says “Women should not have to suffer in silence, especially for something as natural, and normal, as their period. It’s disappointing that in 2019 one in three men think a grown-up discussion about periods is unprofessional. No one should be forced to miss work or be put under additional stress because they have their period. At Freedom4Girls, we envisage a world in which no woman suffers as a result of the stigma associated with periods.

“We believe an important way of combatting the ‘taboo’ nature of periods is through early education. Initial Washroom Hygiene’s research found that the majority of people believe that children of both sexes should be taught about periods during primary school (68%) and secondary school (82%). Half of those surveyed also believed that periods should be discussed more openly in the news (50%) and portrayed more accurately within films, television and advertising (53%). Having these conversations early on should help to create more open and grown-up dialogue in the workplace.”

Sian Walkling said,“Employers are starting to understand that investing in employee wellbeing is vital in ensuring a happy and productive workplace. Considering the impact of menstrual cycles on female employees is a vital part of this, which is why we believe menstrual hygiene products need to be viewed as washroom essentials just like toilet paper, soap and hand-drying facilities.”

Last reviewed 19 November 2019