Two thirds of working women have never taken time off for period pain, including 40% of those who regularly get pain bad enough that it affects their ability to work
In May, Spain proposed legislation that would make it the first country in Europe to give workers paid menstrual leave, offering optional sick leave of three days per month for workers who suffer from severe period pain. The move prompted calls from campaigners and charities for the UK to follow suit, and designate menstrual leave as separate from ordinary sick leave.
Britons are narrowly in favour of offering menstrual leave in the UK, by 45% to 39%. Women (52%) are significantly more likely than men (39%) to support offering paid time off for periods, although men are not more opposed (40% to women’s 38%) but rather more likely to be unsure (21% vs 10%).
Attitudes towards menstrual leave are more supportive among younger Britons – those under 30, and in their 30s and 40s – who tend to approve of offering time off for period pains, while Britons in their 50s and 60s tend to oppose it.
When asked to rate a typical period on a pain level out of 10, from 0 (no pain at all) to 10 (pain so bad you cannot move and need to go to the hospital), on average women rate an ordinary period as a 4.3 – moderate pain that they are aware of but can continue doing most activities.
When rating their ‘worst ever’ period pains, however, the average pain score jumps up nearly two points, to a 6.5: half way between ‘distressing’ and ‘unmanageable’, and impacting many or most activities.
A quarter of women say they regularly experience period pains that affect their ability to work
If a policy of menstrual leave were to be introduced in the UK, who would stand to benefit? Almost a quarter of women who currently menstruate (24%), say they get period pains that affect their ability to work every time or most times they get their period. A further two in five (41%) say they experience work-affecting period pains sometimes or rarely when they are menstruating, while 15% don’t currently get them regularly but have in the past. Just 17% of women say they have never had period pains that would get in the way of working.
Women who say they regularly get period pains that affect their ability to work (every time or most times they have their period) rate the pain of a typical period (6.2) as almost as painful as the average women’s worst period pains (6.5).
The worst period pains for women who are regularly struck down by cramps that affect work average a 7.9 – edging into ‘intense’, or a pain that is so severe that it’s hard to think about anything else and talking and listening become difficult.
The majority of women have never taken time off work for period pains, including a fifth of those who regularly get period pains that affect their ability to work
Despite the seemingly ubiquitous nature of period pain among women who menstruate, it is rare for women in general to say they regularly take time off work for period pains, if at all, with many women opting to suffer through period pains even if they affect their ability to work.
Just 4% of working women who menstruate say they take time off work for period pains every or most times they have their period, with two-thirds (65%) saying they have never taken time off work for period pains.
For women who regularly get period pains that affect their ability to work (every or most times they have their period), just one in seven (18%) say they take time off work every or most times they are menstruating. A further quarter (23%) say they take time off sometimes or rarely and 18% do not take regular time off but have done so in the past. Four in 10 working women (40%) who regularly experience work-affecting period pains say they have never taken time off work for them.
Do women who take time off work for period pains tell their employers the real reason why they’re off sick – and would they be more likely to take time off if their boss was a woman?
Spain’s equality minister Irene Montero tweeted that the proposed legislation to offer menstrual leave would “end the stigma, shame and silence around periods”. The relatively few women who say they have ever taken time off for period pains (28% of all women who menstruate or have in the past) tend towards pretending to take time off work for other reasons, rather than telling their employers that they have period pains.
Just 11% of those who have taken time off work for cramps say they have never concealed the real reason why from their employers. The majority of women who have called into work with cramps (59%) say they are not been truthful about the reason for needing a sick day at least most of the time, including more than a third (38%) who conceal the reasons every time they take a day off for period pain.
Would women be more likely to take time off if their boss or line manager was also a woman? While half of working women who currently menstruate (51%) say it would make no difference, more than a third (38%) say they would be more likely to do so.
Young women are more likely than older women to say they would feel more comfortable taking time off work for period pains if their boss was a woman: half of working women under 30 (48%) say they would be more likely to, compared to around 31% of those over 40.
Those working women who very frequently experience period pains that affect their ability to work are particularly likely to say they would be more likely to take period leave if they had a female boss, at 51%.
Full tables coming shortly