The recommendations from one of the first studies in the world to explore both menstrual health and menopause at work are informing a new NHS Scotland policy.
The work aims to create an environment where those experiencing menopause or menstruation are supported through positive cultures, practical support mechanisms, and challenging stigma or negative stereotypes.
“Advancing Menopause and Menstrual Health in Organisations” ( AMMInO) was carried out by University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School’s Professor Kathleen Riach in 2022. The work sought to understand the menopause and menstrual experiences and needs of more than 6,000 NHS employees.
Results revealed that most employees can continue to work through menstruation or menopausal transition without having a disruptive impact on their jobs. However, for those that do have menstrual and menopausal health experiences that have some kind of impact on their working lives, cultural, structural or institutional conditions can negatively impact and exacerbate these experiences.
Other findings from the research offer valuable insights into healthcare and organisational challenges surrounding reproductive health in the workplace. One critical issue is the ongoing problem of misdiagnosis, under diagnosis, and late diagnosis. These not only affect women’s careers but also influence their ability to work effectively.
Despite these hurdles, the study found that employees demonstrate a remarkable degree of resilience and creativity in managing their conditions. They often employ “micro accommodations” to work through pain caused by menstrual or menopausal experiences.
These efforts are significantly aided when colleagues and line managers provide support. Furthermore, the organisational culture plays a crucial role in shaping these experiences.
Alarmingly, 40% of respondents reported having had an embarrassing or stigmatising experience related to menstruation or menopause at work in the last year. This highlights the urgent need to tackle biases and stereotypes within the workplace to make it a more inclusive environment for everyone.
Professor Kathleen Riach from the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School said: “NHS Scotland’s new Menopause and Menstrual Health Workplace policy marks a vital step in ensuring all employees are valued, supported, and recognised as an integral part of the country’s workforce, no matter their age or stage of their reproductive lives.
“Healthier women mean a healthier economy. By identifying and scaling some of the best practice currently existing across the NHS Scotland workforce, as well as introducing new evidence-based practices, this policy will ensure there is no barrier to jobs and careers in healthcare.”
Minister for Women’s Health Jenni Minto said: “It’s important to foster a culture of awareness and compassionate management in the workplace so women feel confident and comfortable raising issues around their menopause or menstrual health.
“NHS Scotland’s policy will recommend a number of measures that will make work life easier, such as flexible breaks and working arrangements.
“This is a positive example of an employer taking proactive steps to reduce barriers to women’s health in the workplace, and we hope it promotes equivalent efforts across the public, private, and third sectors.”
The work was undertaken by the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School in collaboration with the Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan and NHS Scotland.