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Endometriosis action month: women don't open up about menstrual health

Nearly half of female workers (47%) said they would be concerned about discussing their menstrual health issues with their employers.

This is despite a gradual shift in attitudes towards being open around health at work, with 46% of Brits saying that Covid-19 has meant they are now more likely to discuss their health and wellbeing openly at work.

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Data from Endometriosis UK found 60% of women aged 16-24 and 56% of those aged 25-34 would be concerned discussing the gynaecological condition with their employer if they were taking time off due to painful periods and chronic pelvic pain.

When asked about taking time off for a generic health condition, with the question not mentioning periods, the figure dropped to 40% of women and 35% of men.

Endometriosis is a common and sometimes debilitating disease affecting one in 10 women.

Patients will experience chronic pelvic pain and painful periods, pain during or after sex, painful bowel movements or pain when urinating, difficulty getting pregnant and fatigue.

Those with the condition often have their symptoms dismissed or ignored, and it takes an average of eight years to get a diagnosis in the UK, a figure that hasn’t changed in a decade. 

Endometriosis UK launched its Endometriosis Friendly Employer scheme in 2019, which has since been joined by over 80 public, private and non-profit organisations.

These employers, such as Severn Trent, commit to creating a work environment and culture where employees with endometriosis can thrive at work.

Joe Carter, HR leader at Severn Trent, said: “We are trying to remove the taboo around the condition as a lot of people find it a bit of an awkward topic to talk about. Our aim is for everyone to be able to be open about it and for managers to feel they can provide the necessary support and understand the condition more.”

The water firm decided to become an Endometriosis Friendly Employer following a series of employees coming to HR wanting support on the condition.

Sophie Lilly, who works in Severn Trent’s operational control centre, published an article on its intranet where she explained what the condition was and the impact it has had on her everyday life.

It has since gone on to receive the most views and comments of any of Severn Trent’s articles and has led to a podcast episode dedicated to the condition and HR creating a supportive guide for colleagues and managers.

Carter said: “We are a business which has a high percentage of men, and they especially have felt it difficult to understand or know about endometriosis and didn’t feel able to talk about.

“Even some women don’t know about the condition and how it impacts people.”

Lilly has found her employer's response to the chronic condition has made dealing with it at work a lot easier.

She said: “I live with constant pain which fluctuates throughout the month, but they [Severn Trent] allow me to have a less structured day and manage my own hours.

“Endometriosis affects everyone so differently. I lost three stone in weight, had issues with nausea and horrible pain. I’ve also had to take quite a bit of time off work to have two operations.”

Reactions to the article have helped Lilly feel less alone with the condition, having since found other colleagues with the condition or those whose partners have it.

She added: “The most helpful part has been starting the conversation about it. Without the article I wouldn’t have found out how many people had it.

“It gave others the confidence to speak up, and now these conversations are trickling down throughout the company.

“We are now discussing having endo champions in the company, so if you’re uncomfortable speaking to your manager, you have a safe space to speak to them if you’re in trouble.”