Respondents thus indicated an interest in employers implementing period policies, including flexible working hours and recognising ‘period leave’ as a valid medical need.
More than four in 10 (44%) of women surveyed in Singapore have admitted to taking regular time off work to deal with period pains, or to simply avoid awkwardness in the office during that time of the month, a recent study by period-care brand Blood has found. On top of that, more than half (54%) of those surveyed further admitted to lying about their reason for absence to avoid ridicule or discrimination in the workplace.
That was not all — of the 1,000 women surveyed, 71% also admitted to feeling pressured to be at their desk, despite being unable to perform to the expected standard due to the pain.
As part of its ‘Period-Positive Workplaces' initiative aiming to help ease this problem, Blood commissioned the survey to better understand attitudes, perception and the real impact menstruation has on women in the workplace today. And with 61.1% of the local workforce being women, such a prevalent and inevitable issue no doubt affects a large number of employees. In fact, an average of 5.8mn working days are lost every year in Singapore due to period pains.
As a whole, 83% of respondents revealed that period pains affect their lives regularly, with one in three (31%) citing both physical and mental impact.
However, many women deal with the pain differently: While 29% of Singaporeans proactively try to manage the pain associated with their monthly cycle, almost a third of women (31%) simply choose to ‘suffer in silence’, despite 11% describing their monthly pain as ‘debilitating’ and ‘paralysing’.
Meanwhile, close to a third of those questioned (31%) have resigned themselves to the fact that a painful menstrual cycle is just part of being a woman.
Looking further into the severity of the pain, close to one in four (37%) respondents shared that they suffer from extreme period discomfort, so severe that it "derails their daily lives for a few days every month."
More specifically, cramps (72%) were the most common symptom, followed by fatigue (64%), bloating (64%), and backache (60%). Even with a wide range of symptoms, an overwhelming 94% of those surveyed typically suffered from one or more each month. Despite this, an astonishing 68% admitted that they would continue to work despite being bent over in pain for fear of being judged and or overlooked.
Sadly, the survey noted, 43% of respondents felt as though they wouldn’t be believed if they called in sick due to period pains, leading employees to lie about their reason for absence. It is clear from the research that respondents are open to employers implementing period policies, ranging from flexible working hours (to avoid full days being lost), to offering complementary menstrual products, and to recognising ‘period leave’ as a valid medical need. Per the survey, over 70% of respondents shared that they’d rather have the flexibility to choose where and how to work on period days, as compared to taking an MC unnecessarily.
Tan Peck Ying, Co-Founder of Blood elaborates: "Arming them with this power of choice helps them to work alongside their period pain while still taking into consideration their well-being.
"COVID-19 has given many of us a taste of agile work arrangements; I believe that with this paradigm shift, we are completely equipped with the ability to support women who need some degree of flexibility when the situation calls for it, she adds.
Further aggravating this issue, there is also the possibility of feeling discriminated against or ridiculed in the workplace when experiencing menses — 18% of respondents shared that they naturally felt more sensitive to comments, with an additional 25% stating that they felt their performance was scrutinised more critically.
More commonly, close to three in four (76%), had experienced some form of period shaming in the workplace — including bullying, isolation, or 'time of the month' jokes. Importantly, one in three Singaporeans felt that there is not enough empathy from colleagues in the workplace during tough periods.
As such, regardless of age, the majority (76%) revealed that they go to great lengths to hide their sanitary products at work.
The survey also looked into how men and women treated this issue. When respondents were asked if women are more empathetic in the workplace, 59% of respondents believed their woman colleagues were. Interestingly when adding hierarchy into the mix, the findings were rather equal, with woman bosses fairing slightly better than their male counterparts when it comes to understanding the challenges of period pain. The findings suggest that male bosses are stepping up when it comes to understanding the challenges of the monthly cycle, though there is still room for improvement.
On a more personal level, the survey noted that 62% of respondents learnt about their periods from their mothers. On the other hand, over a third of respondents (37%) first learnt about their periods either at school, from their friends or even the internet, indicating a genuine lack of knowledge about the menstrual cycle. This has likely helped render the subject matter taboo, both in the workplace and at home, over time. In fact, 15% of respondents shared that they do not feel comfortable talking about periods with their own mother or daughter, and would instead turn to their friends or the Internet if they had questions.
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