The British Standards Institution has launched new standards addressing menstruation and menopause. The group serves as the national standards body for the United Kingdom, producing technical standards on a wide range of products and services, as well as providing certification and standards-related services to businesses.
The new standards address the needs of individuals experiencing menstruation and menopause, recommending that businesses prioritise the well-being of workers facing symptoms related to reproductive health.
The ‘Menstruation, Menstrual Health and Menopause in the Workplace’ standard aims to make the workplace suitable for all employees by providing practical recommendations and suggestions for employers and recognising the challenges that can accompany the symptoms of menopause and menstruation. The guidance includes:
- Adopting training for managers and HR teams to understand the impact of menstrual health and menopause.
- Ensuring facilities are accessible.
- Using non-stigmatising language such as ‘menstrual products’ instead of ‘feminine hygiene products.’
- Offering flexible work patterns for staff.
- Including menstruation and menopause in company policy.
- Introducing comfortable seating and desk fans to help with symptoms.
- Flexible dress code.
It encourages employers to consider the general awareness of reproductive health in its culture and to ensure employees can feel comfortable discussing their needs and requesting support. The standard also highlights the need for businesses to consider trans and non-binary members or staff.
The BSI has received praise for its work. It has been credited as a step in the right direction, particularly as the national awareness around menopause and menstrual health has grown recently. It comes after the government rejected the classification of menopause as a protected characteristic earlier this year.
Menstruation in the Workplace
According to a survey for Menstrual Hygiene Day by the charity WaterAid, 85% of women say they experience stress or anxiety when managing their period at work. Menstruation causes pain and physical discomfort for as many as 80% of women at some stage of their life, and severe pain that is enough to disrupt an individual’s life occurs in between 5% and 10% of women.
The symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling bloated
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
Menopause in the Workplace
Research by the British Menopause Society indicates that 45% of women believe menopausal symptoms have negatively impacted their work performance, and 47% of women who have taken a day off work related to menopausal symptoms will not tell their employer why they are absent.
- Changes in mood and low self-esteem
- Hot flushes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of memory or concentration (brain fog)
- Headaches and migraines
- Muscle aches and joint pains
The Women and Equalities Committee’s reported in ‘Menopause in the Workplace’ that women over 50 are the fastest growing group in the workforce. Still, a combination of these symptoms can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, leaving women feeling like they’ve lost confidence in themselves and their abilities and they need to take time off. The lack of support from employers is often cited as one of the main reasons for leaving work.
Anne Hayes, Director of Sectors at the BSI, said: “There is no one-size-fits-all experience of menopause, but the data suggests thousands of women are leaving the workforce at this stage, contributing to significant productivity losses, robbing organisations of talented people, and removing mentors who can draw on their experience to support newer members of staff. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Government legislation already exists for period leave in countries including Japan, South Korea, India, Zambia and Taiwan, but Menstruation, Menstrual Health and Menopause in the Workplace represent a landmark moment in supporting women in the workplace in the UK. The introduction of menstrual health frameworks across British businesses is expected to accelerate equity for women of all ages while boosting retention among female employees – beyond those suffering from poor menstrual health because it represents acceptance and employer inclusivity.
HR professionals have an essential role to play as advocates for menstrual health and menopause in the workplace. The function is well positioned within businesses to help facilitate open and inclusive conversations, provide education and awareness, and helping to implement policies that empower women.