Discover the Hidden Reason Why Nearly Half of Us Feel Unwell in the Workplace

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Have you ever had to leave work because you felt unwell? Maybe it was food poisoning, or the flu. It could be a bellyache or a pounding headache, making it tough to focus and get work done.

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But what would you do if you had to tell your boss you weren’t feeling well and had to leave? Would you be honest about what’s going on?

For most employees, a stomach upset is an acceptable reason to go home. But for many who menstruate and experience severe discomfort every month, talking about their period at work is still taboo.

A recent study involving 247 students and workers who menstruate revealed that only 6.7% would be upfront with their employer about leaving work because of their period. That’s quite a low number, given that 87% of the respondents, 96% of whom identified as women, said their period often interfered with their work or study.

One participant in the study shared, “Sometimes I would just say I wasn’t well and needed to work from home to be near a bathroom. People would assume it was something else, like gastro.” Another respondent noted, “I don’t feel comfortable giving menstruation as a reason to miss work; it feels like an excuse, even though I’m in chronic pain.”

The stigma surrounding menstruation is undoubtedly affecting the workplace. It’s not surprising to hear that those with periods might not want to talk about it with their bosses.

However, there’s hope. We’re starting to see initiatives that aim to make workplaces more inclusive for those who menstruate. Recently, Victorian government employees were granted an additional five days of sick leave to accommodate menstrual pain, menopause symptoms, and IVF treatments. It’s a small step, but it’s a start.

Other companies in Australia are following suit, with the Victorian Women’s Trust leading the way by implementing a “Menstrual and Menopause Wellbeing Policy.” Organizations like the Aintree Group, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, and the Cura Day Hospitals Group are also on board with similar policies.

Educational institutions are also joining the effort by providing free pads and tampons. Schools, Melbourne council facilities, and universities like Griffith and Monash are ensuring that students and staff have access to these essential products.

Initiatives like these are critical, but they aren’t enough on their own. According to the study, 84.6% of respondents said that access to free period products made them feel that their workplace cared about them. It also reduced the chances of them leaving work due to their period. Yet, one respondent described an incident where she had to leave work because she bled through her clothes. “It was so stressful and humiliating,” she said. “Free period products could change someone’s day.”

But offering free pads and tampons is just one part of the solution. Companies need to go further to create a truly inclusive workplace.

  1. Recognize the Impact of Periods
    The study found that people who menstruate often experience physical symptoms like abdominal pain, backaches, and headaches before or during their periods. There are also emotional symptoms, including anxiety, fatigue, depression, and irritability. It’s crucial to understand that these symptoms can affect productivity and morale.
  2. Become an Inclusive Leader
    Inclusive leaders see menstrual health as a justice and human rights issue. They treat it as an important topic for the organization and talk to those who menstruate to understand their needs. This can include offering flexible breaks, adjustable work hours, and even paid menstrual leave.
  3. Normalize Conversations About Menstruation
    Leaders should create an environment where discussions about menstruation are welcomed, not shunned. By challenging stigma and discrimination, leaders can help build a supportive culture. Offering education and training to address the menstrual taboo can be instrumental in making workplaces more inclusive.

To create equitable workplaces, employers and employees need to have open and honest discussions about menstruation. By understanding the impact it has on workers, we can move towards a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Ruth Knight, a researcher at Queensland University of Technology, emphasizes that only by talking about menstruation openly and understanding its impact can we create a more inclusive workplace. It’s time to break the silence and ensure that everyone feels comfortable discussing their health needs at work.

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