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How to discuss periods at work

Periods are a big part of our lives yet are often not discussed openly, especially in the workplace. So how do you bring up the topic at work?

With 1 in 10 of us receiving negative comments about our periods when in the workplace, it’s no wonder it’s a conversation that’s difficult to approach with colleagues or an employer.

The stigma around menstruation is alive and well in all different types of workplaces. The impact of this is felt amongst menstruating employees whose comfort and productivity can be disrupted by painful periods or getting caught short at work. Not to mention trying to manage conditions such as Endometriosis or PMDD (to name a few) and balance the demands of the job.

It’s with this that for International Women’s Day this year we’re raising awareness of period dignity and equality at work, to break the bias and encourage employers to act. But how can you get involved as an employee, and how do you go about bringing up the topic of periods at work?

Our tips for discussing periods in the workplace

To break the silence and bring action to your workplace, here are a few ways to go about it.

How to ask for a period product provision

If you’re fed up with getting caught short at work by your period, then you can take steps to request a free period product provision. Start by asking other colleagues if they would also appreciate free period care at work (we’re sure they’ll say yes!). This helps you to prove demand to the relevant person or team within your organisation, should they ask.

The next steps are to take this matter to your Facilities team (if you have one), HR Manager or directly to an MD if you work for a smaller business. Draft up an email outlining your request including useful information, we’ve included some stats here for you to help out:

  • 70% of women surveyed in 2022 by TOTM said they had been caught short by their period at work with 96% saying that period related pain or discomfort had affected their working day.
  • One in ten women and those assigned female at birth are living with endometriosis worldwide which can cause painful, irregular, and heavy periods.
  • On average, we have periods for around 40 years of our lives, which typically covers your entire working career.

Through our workplace scheme, we’ve had loads of people get in touch who have internally pushed for free products at work and successfully brought TOTM products into their workplace bathrooms. It may take some time but putting it on the radar in your place of work could get the ball rolling. If you have no response from these contacts, then Women’s Network groups or Sustainability Groups within your organisation may be able to help, so try them next! They may have a budget that can be re-allocated to this essential project.

As a final step, you could ask your colleagues to donate products to a trial provision and see how this works out. It may lead to lots of positive feedback and discussion that could help open up the conversation around providing free period care to staff.

How to ask for support with a menstrual health related condition

Menstrual health-related conditions can really impact your ability to work yet they’re often so misunderstood in the workplace. This leads to so many people suffering in silence or leaving jobs. Unless you feel you have a supportive boss or HR Manager it can feel very lonely if you have a pre-existing condition or pre-diagnosed condition that’s causing severe pains or heavy bleeding.

If you don’t feel comfortable taking this to your boss, then try speaking with a supportive colleague who can listen and provide support where you need it. If your organisation has an HR department, you may wish to discuss this with your HR Manager.

For anyone with Endometriosis, there’s also an Endo Friendly Employer Scheme created by Endometriosis UK that could help bring change to your organisation. BUPA provide resources and tips for managing a flare-up at work that you may also find useful.

How to own your period when at work

It can be hard to get comfortable when you get your period at work – PMS, cramps and bleeding can all disrupt your working day. So, there’s no better time to prioritise your comfort by heating up a hot water bottle and doing whatever you can to help you focus on work. It’s a good opportunity to break stigma and show that periods are nothing to be embarrassed about.

Now, we totally appreciate this depends on your place of work (you may always be on the go) and the working culture. Another way to take small action here is to just be open about periods in conversations. By simply talking about periods or menstrual wellbeing, it can help to break the silence and educate employees who perhaps take a negative view on menstruation (thanks to period stigma). You could talk about or even share resources or articles that are in the news, to get people thinking about periods in a new way.

Sometimes small changes can gradually make a big difference.

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