Recently we’ve been shedding some light on why periods are powerful in society, not just in developing countries but right on our front door step too.
From #PeriodPoverty, to girls missing out on school and even period shaming through the media (ugh, not cool!) we’ve still got a long way to go for menstruation equality! That’s why we’re all about the #PeriodPower this year.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be diving into how people are affected by attitudes towards periods in different walks of life including in schools, prisons, homelessness and beyond.
Why are we talking about periods in the workplace?
...because that’s where many of us spend most of our time! Unfortunately your menstrual cycle doesn’t work around your busy work-life schedule and, depending on your symptoms and job role, this can present obstacles for many of us. Obstacles we need to be talking about.
Menstruation affects everyone differently (no two periods or people are the same) but the crux of the matter is that it exists for most of us and can affect us physically and mentally at times and enough to affect our work. Does this mean that women and menstruators are inherently at a disadvantage in the workplace? Hells no!
What it does mean is that we have to acknowledge differences between those who have periods and those who don’t and how we can best serve both in happy, safe, equality-driven workspaces.
For example, more than half of us experience pain for one to two days each month with 20% reporting it being severe enough to interfere with daily activities. Those suffering from conditions such as anemia, dysmenorrhea, or endometriosis (affecting roughly 10% of the population) are likely to be affected even more.
In a 2011 study conducted across 10 countries found people with endometriosis experienced reduced work performance, losing on average of almost 11 hours of work each week.
Period poverty (and being unable to access the products you need) and reluctance to report symptoms due to shame also affects work performance and many people already take paid and unpaid sick leave as a result.
Sharra Vostral, associate professor of history at Purdue University and author of Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology lays it out as follows:
“If men are held up as the norm, then the assumption is you should be able to work all the time. And so there’s a lot of pressure, either to have women cover and hide their periods and just keep moving or to say, ‘No, women are special and they need rest and protection so that they can take care of their bodies and their periods.”
What’s it like being on your period at work?
Recently we asked a group of people who menstruate to share their personal experiences of menstruating whilst “on the job” in the UK and here’s what they shared:
Periods as a police officer
"I would only have even that paltry level of open communication about periods with people who were the same rank as I am - it wouldn't be considered an appropriate conversation with more junior officers, who would be horrified at this "overshare" from their boss, and I would only tell a senior officer if I was basically dying in front of them and they needed to know!
It is less of an issue now as promotions have meant that I'm not walking miles, running, fighting etc as much as I used to, but if I'm taking a painkiller at work whilst on my period and someone asks if I'm okay, if it was only women in the room I might say the reason, but if it was mixed or male only company I might say nothing much or at most mutter "lady issues" or "women's things"!(Even that is usually met with horror and a swift change of subject!)
Oh yeah, one other thing... I'm in a plain-clothes role now but when I was in uniform and wearing body armour, when my period was due my boobs would get really sensitive and wearing the bullet/stab-proof vest was torture."
"My friend used to get awful, awful pains (sometimes even ended up in hospital) and was simply laughed at by the senior men and not allowed to take the time off... but man flu.... that's a serious issue."
The good and bad in government offices
"I’ve seen men walk away from our bank of desks & go to the kitchen because they are physically uncomfortable by the conversation 🙄 I use a menstrual cup & find that using the disabled loo is easier because they have a sink in them but I get lots of tuts & looks when people see me coming out of the loo - there’s even been signs put up to say ‘these facilities are reserved for people with disabilities only’. But to counter these negative experiences there is one floor where the have started a voluntary donation station for tampons & sanitary items in case you’re ever caught short at work 😊"
Male vs. Female colleagues
"We have free tampons and sanitary towels at work...we’re so fortunate. Even in the unisex loos. We’re even trialling organic/non-toxic versions.
My team is fortunately mostly women so we talk freely amongst our group. The guys just stay silent given they’re outnumbered (bless ‘em).
I have extremely heavy/painful periods and tend to work from home at least one day a month....but couldn’t bare to tell my (male) boss the real reason for being at home."
It’s not just physical symptoms
"I get awful emotional PMS rather than physical symptoms.
What I'd really be up for is having the option to take one unplanned WFH (working from home day) a month on top of other flexible working. I work part time in a fixed-flexible set up which is generally good but that I feel would make a difference for a lot of women."
Bloody good conversations in health professions
"In my workplace we love talking about blood - but only when it comes from areas which are usually not bleeding 😉 The men don’t have any problem with it, some actually ask questions about it. But that‘s because of the field of work we‘re all in."
What does the future of periods in the workplace look like?
Historically, periods were a reason to keep those who menstruate out of the workplace all together and, arguably better now, we’re still seeing some weird responses for addressing this issue. In Norway, one company tried to have people wear red bracelets to show they were on their period in an effort to monitor the amount of bathroom breaks (say what now?!). In Germany, the supermarket chain Lidl was found to be secretly monitoring their staff’s menstrual cycles in an attempt to crack down on...shoplifting?
I can’t even.
A not-so-crazy idea that’s making headlines recently is the idea of paid sick leave for those who need it when on their period. It’s been around in Japan since the 1940’s and in Zambia but it still up for debate in most other countries.
While most agree that someone suffering from any physical ailment (including menstruation) should be allowed to take the time needed to look after themselves, some are concerned that “paid period leave” could increase the gender pay gap further. Forbes, finance writer Tim Worstall argues that employers will view those who menstruate as even more expensive to hire and that this will negatively affect their pay or chance of hire in to a job.
Also, with menstrual-taboo still such a big issue all over the world it’s unlikely people will feel comfortable asking for paid leave because of their periods anyway. In Japan we still see that workers would rather just take regular sick leave than declare it as the period paid leave, even though it’s offered to them there.
So, what’s the answer?
First, we need to break down these taboos and get people talking about this normal part of life that affects so many people.
Second, it’s paramount that people have access to the products and facilities they need in order to carry out their daily activities. This means making sure you have appropriate period-friendly bathroom policies! Lastly, if you need time off from work or to work flexibly around your physical symptoms then of course you should have that.
Maybe instead of paid “period leave” we should push for more adequate sick leave in general that can cover us, then it’s up to you what you disclose to your employer or not.
Whatever your situation, your health and wellbeing come first no matter what!
What do you think?
What’s been your experience of menstruation in the work place? What do you think employers can do to make things better?
Do you think paid period leave is a good idea?
hello this was a great article to read!
I have been recently diagnose with Iron deficiency anemia for about 3 years now. Over the past 3 years it has been very difficult working in the office during my periods. My periods are really heavy and I have major cramps in my back and uterus. Sometimes I can’t make it to the ladies room to change my pad. I have to wear 2 or 3 at a time so I don’t mess up my clothes. Its better for me to work from home or at a place where I know I don’t have to worry about anything. I use to work as a receptionist and sitting down most of my day was not cool. I had to sit a certain way so I wouldn’t stain my clothes. Now what I do is make deliveries and its better where I am free to move around and not worry if I’ve stained my clothes. I can also where a sweater around my waist if I have an accident on my clothes.
Hi Tahneea! We’re so happy to hear this was a helpful post! Please don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any period questions you’d like us to answer. :)
I am a Year 12 student studying Society and Culture. In this course we have a majors works which can be on anything we decide. I chose to study the menstrual cycle and it’s impacts on women in everyday environments such as work place, schooling facilities, in general public, and even at home.
This article was a major help for me and I don’t know what I would have done without your help, and personally I want to say thank you for spreading the word about menstrual cycles, and making a safe space for women or anyone who goes through the menstrual cycle to come to.
PS I did reference you site
Hi Katydid! Thanks for sharing your story- we’re so sorry to hear about the terrible period pains you experience! Debilitating period pains are not normal and we recommend consulting a doctor and/or certified nutritionist to diagnose possible disorders like PCOS and endometriosis, and to help manage and relieve your symptoms. Much love!
Having always had difficult periods, knowing this, I have limited my career prospects. I could be a teacher or office manager, but, instead I clean houses because it is flexible and easier. I have a week of hell with PMS and at the end of the week I am so sick once my period hits I am bedridden. Not every period….some come and go without issue, but every so often they are BAD.
Hi Emily! We’re so sorry to hear that! We would love to guide you on how to use a Lunette Cup, that way you won’t have to worry about periods in the workplace. 😊 Please don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com and we’re more than happy to help.
This is something I always thought about an worried about . I haven’t gotten a job due to being a really nervous person and because I always thought how do I deal with my periods. I always have to be relaxing in my bed in order for me to feel fine. Somewhat. I also always get insomnia when on my period like now. Its 5am now for me an I started yesterday. I really hate periods.
Yesterday, after two whole years I got my period back. This was great news because it was a sign my PCOS did not win! I was prescribed Metformin from my doctors to level up my insulin so it could work properly.
My PCOS affected me in ways I never thought it could. It reversed my growth spurt so after middle school, all I did was shrink. It made me gain SO much weight, very uncontrollably to the point that I am pre-diabetic. I makes my hair growth increase so much that it because overly thick and causes painful ingrown hairs on my crotch.
I have to get laser hair removal on that area and it hurt so back I wailed like a baby when they put the machine on me.
I just turned 19 years old and life is being thrown at me in over speed. The world does not stop moving just for me and my problems. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep and it doesn’t help that I have anxiety and clinical depression.
All of this crying could lead to a weakened immune system, which can cause my body to catch COVID-19. I know I wouldn’t be able to survive it because of my heart problems.
My PCOS has cause me so much pain psychologically, mentally, and physically. And ultimately may lead to my demise.
But it doesn’t matter, I guess all those nights praying that I would die eventually will come true.
Not to mention, I will probably get killed by a bunch of racists before that because I am hated for my skin complexion. Overall, stay strong women, for I cannot, you shall fight in my place.
Hi, R. Venoel! We’re so sorry to hear your suffering from such bad period pains. You’re correct, debilitating period pain is not normal. If you’re able, it could be worthwhile to research doctors in your area who specialize in conditions like PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and endometriosis. These are both conditions that are often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Paying attention to your diet and researching nutrients that help alleviate inflammations, as well as those that increase inflammation to know what to avoid, can also be beneficial. Wishing you all the best! -Team Lunette
Mine is coming up soon. I don’t know when. Its been very inconsistent in the past few months, ranging from 30 to 54 days. When it starts, there’s no telling how severe the symptoms will be. There will always be pain. It will always be heavy. But the severity of it is unpredictable. It could be bad to the point where I’m delusional and screaming in pain, or mild enough that I only suffer from really bad cramps. I hate this. I started my period when I was 12. I’m 18 now. I have two part time jobs. Both require fast pace working and standing for 5 hours. I’m scared. Really scared. I can’t go to the doctor anymore and besides, last time they said nothing but to take some ibuprofen. That trip to the hospital cost $500 out of pocket. No insurance. The fact that I have to deal with this is absolutely disgusting. I hate it here. I hate that we’re told that all women deal with it and it’s normal.
No. Its not normal. This pain is NOT NORMAL.
I was recently on a job trial, when I had a cramp, my period finished the day before, so I was confused as to why I was cramping (turns out it was dehydration and constipation, YAY!).
The person (male) I was shadowing and whom would be giving a recommendation if I was up to the task, asked if I was having “lady problems”, I beleive if you’re an adult you say things as what they are. So as I was telling him its called menstruation, he then said I would never be able to the job because I have lady problems. I had worked the entier week with no problem while mensturating, but because I was actually sick it got put by a male that I couldn’t do the job because I menstruate therefore had no energy. I’ve done far more physically demanding jobs than this one. And I wasn’t even on my bloody period I was actually sick! And I want to see an apology, no one gets to tell me what im capable of while I menstruate, only my body is aloud to tell me!
Since starting part time work at a supermarket, I have started dreading the days I get my periods. My flow doesn’t start until 3rd or 4th day, but 1st and 2nd days are so uncomfortable with uneasiness and pain. When it starts, it is heavy and makes fast paced walk very difficult. This month was particularly hard because I got a sudden rush to pee and I needed only 10 mins for break time to start and unable to control myself, I ran to the washroom with no explanation and they were young boys and men. I felt so embarrassed. Then I look at other girls who work daily at these places with such ease and it further depresses me and makes me wonder why I am unable to control my pain, my periods and my emotions during this time. The day it starts to go is the best feeling ever. I am full of energy. When it starts to come, I am miserable. It really disturbs my plans, my energy, my focus and my ability to compete at workplace. I feel defeated not by the world, but by periods as I end up slowing down, performing average and taking leaves just because I feel sleepy, tired and need rest. Even more sad is the inability to freely express the condition, the topic spoils the atmosphere. Even women don’t like to talk about it. Makes you wonder if you are an odd one.
Hi Lilian, Thank you for sharing your story! We are so saddened to hear about the pain you have to go through each month. That alone is frustrating enough and you certainly should not have to feel bad about it! We hope there will be relief for your periods pains in the future. <3
That is so unfair to give you a guilt trip for taking care of yourself. I’m glad you stayed home. Your quality of life should come before a job, always.
My period causes intense pain and mood swings. I’m on the highest dose of a mood stabler for bipolar disorder that my doctor thought would take away the emotional distress from PMS and PMDD as well. Granted, it did take the edge off, but I still have intense mood swings. I get anxiety that develops into paranoia and agoraphobia (another diagnosis, yay!) and I start self-loathing—something I never do outside of my favorite week of the month. I have a cyst on one of my ovaries that swells and puts pressure on my sciatic nerve to the point that it’s uncomfortable to sit down. The worst case I had happened during a 2-day training event and I had to sit up front so I couldn’t even stand to relieve pressure. I had to shift uncomfortably the entire time which I feel like that couldn’t have been any better than just standing up! Lol.
Now, I’m way more open about my period at work. Women shouldn’t be ashamed of something unfortunately natural like a period and if I’m more open maybe I can help other women at my work kick the period shame. We complain about having headaches at work and leaving work when we have migraines—why should pain from period cramps be any different?
Thanks for reading! <3
I’m really glad to have found this article today. I really struggle with heavy and very painful periods. My periods have become increasingly difficult every year since I turned 21,
5 years ago. Working pt/ freelance meant that I could juggle work with the time I needed off but for the past year I’ve been in a role that is ft, salaried and with no flexitime available. It’s extremely difficult. Every month I need 2, sometimes 3 rest days and when that falls in a week day it is very difficult to know what to do.
Sometimes I cannot stand or walk for the cramps and know there is no way I could concentrate all day on my work, even medicated. Magnesium has helped a lot with pm bloating that was previously so bad that I couldn’t fit into my clothes. Excruciating pain that leaves me howling and curled up is often how my period is for the first two days. Exhausted from the loss of blood and from the pain. I have seen my gp recently as normal pain medication wasn’t doing anything and have a prescription painkiller and also a blood medication. My colleagues certainly don’t understand and my employers make me feel guilty and anxious about not being able to work.
When on, I get ibs symptoms too and need lots of toilet breaks. It’s very stressful and I long for more understanding in the workplace. What I find really depressing is that unless I am my own boss, I struggle to see how I will have enough freedom to deal with my periods and not miss work in the future.
You guys are great!
So sorry to hear about your predicament! That sounds like no fun at all. We hope the rest of the season is merry and bright for you!
My periods are very painful to the point where I can’t function. Unfortunately My period happened to start on a Sunday, which is a day I work. I called in and explained that my period is making me feel very unwell to the point where I couldn’t make it in that day. I knew it was a busy time due to Christmas but I just wasn’t feeling well at all with my period. I was told that It was unacceptable due to the busy time, which I completely understood how busy it gets at the shop i work at, she then went on to say that I was letting people down and I should try to make it in even if it was later. Honestly I felt even worse and was completely conflicted into staying at home and resting or forcing myself to go in and be uncomfortable throughout the day. I work as a sales assistant so we are always on our feet, I knew it wouldn’t of been able to cope the whole day while I was on my period so i didn’t go in but I felt awful throughout the day that I’d let people down.
I have had painful periods for the past 10 years. Luckily, I work from home full time on salary and am also able to take a sick day when I need it. I’ve only taken a few sick days this year, but I definitely “phone it in” at times when I have my period and can’t work much. I find that even laying in bed with my laptop, the stress of work makes it hurt a lot more than just watching a movie. I feel like I am in basically the best possible situation a woman can be in, regarding having a schedule to work around my period. And it STILL sucks when it happens early in a week. It still sucks to occasionally have to take a sick day and be vague about why, and worry that someone will ask what’s wrong and I’l have to decide whether or not to lie. I don’t know what the solution here is.
I am young black American and I’ve been discriminated plenty times because of my race, but today I’m sitting unable to sleep, crying because today was the first time, ever I was discriminated because of my sex. The view of Periods and gender discrimination needs to change. I was told today that I need to get a doctors note because my period was too heavy, so when I say it’s an emergency, “I need to use the bathroom” I will be taken serious. I needed to use the bathroom and could not wait. I told my manager I needed to be relieved from my cashier’s duties just for a moment to use the restroom. He asked if I could wait two minutes for the On coming manager. I SAID NO. Since I’ve been use a menstruating cup and my flow was usually heavy I was uneasy at the imagine of me waiting any longer. At my amazement, my manger hung the phone up in my face. Ten minutes later he arrived. I use the restroom and asked to speak to him. I explain my
Situation the best I could without completing reliving my predicament and being unprofessional. To my disbelief , the s*** went right over his head the he started saying as adults we all should be able to hold our pee. I NEVER said I had to pee, I would never say that, I’m an grown women and I said I need the restroom. I started making the hand motions around my uterus suggesting a flowing direction out to the floor. His lack of knowledge caused him to assume females don’t have other business in the restroom!!! I had to make sure my mensural cup wasn’t slipping ! I pray people will understand human decadency one day and will be able to honestly view women as an equal sex. We are beautiful and more deserving than treatment like this. I know right from wrong, I hope others will understand it one day.
I’m at home, on my period. Doing fairly well due to a high dose of pain medication. The past four years I’ve never had a job. I simply cannot maintain one. For the past three years I’ve spent every period hospitalized. Hooked up to IVs just barely making it. I don’t enjoy stereotypes about women. However I also wish people could understand we are different. We do have a “”disadvantage” if that’s how people need to look at it. I shouldn’t have to play pretend everything is okay when I have diarrhea, vomiting, feeling weak & often passing out. It’s not fair. I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t live like this Forever. Jobless. But my body forces me to sit down in rest in a world where everyone is rushing. Sucks!
I am sitting in office totally unfocused, lazy, anxious and depressed .It’s PMS time. 5th July is my date. The cramps are so bad that I end up taking sick leave of 2 days every month. All my holiday leaves are spent on managing periods. I think only a drastic change in life style will help.Also it sucks that we do not have flexi time or work from home option. During the second day especially I go through hell and back and its not helpful to sit among a bunch of men and see them be perfectly fine with their bodies.
This is such a great article and would be beneficial to all women who suffer with severe pain during their menstrual cycle instead of feeling ashamed, misubderstood or sly just because some people at the work place think this is natural and all women should be able to handle this type of problem as weve gone through it all our life. This is the type of mindset colleagues have when you take sick days because you have your period and its somewhat unfair that we get judged by something we cant control.
Ive always had very severe cramps when i have my period and i would get dizzy and constantly would feel like vomitting for thr first few days i also get anemic on those days as my period gets heavy. I used to not take pain killers and continue working throughout the day and sometimes for a 12hour shift and just bare the sickness and pain and if youre in that much pain and lightheaded you will end up throwing up somewhere or just on the floor drinking hot water to ease the pain. Until 2years ago i started taking pain killers it would help but not much i even take the ones that last for 8 hours but only ever last for 4 coz the pain is too great you can still feel your body getting numb the cramps getting worse so one day i took another pain killer after 4hours i ended up overdosing on it and litterally went to the toilet and vomitted at the same time (painful) after that my body was in such a bad shape that all my muscles started aching like youre bodys been smashed, had to suffer through that for days on top of having a period, luckily i am not working at the moment and so im not put in a situation where i have to face an employer and tell them i need a day off coz i have my period.
Periods arent as simple as eveyone specially in the workplace think it is, lucky are the women who are still able to function like a normal person on those days but for someone like me for example is just excruiating having to deal with it and be put in an unbiased environment where people think youre just slacking off.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Zara.
By talking openly about menstruation, we open the door for others to do the same.
Wishing you all the best. <3
I think period days would be really good for women everywhere. It’s something I have always hoped for. Since starting my periods at 12 I have always found them unbearable to deal with. I’ve always experienced excruciating pains every month and would spend hours in the bath in agony keep topping up the hot water.
Now in adulthood I am in my 30s and finally being referred to have fibroids removed and checked for endometriosis. Every month is awful and my manager has always been understanding and let me go home. But with not being the only female in the office I feel that I am not being understood. I feel the other girls think I am overreacting and don’t take me seriously.