Many UK workers remain unsure whether the symptoms of endometriosis constitute a ‘fair’ reason for taking time off work, according to a study to combine with Endometriosis Action Month (March).
The charity Endometriosis UK is urging employers to learn more about endometriosis and its impact and to do more to promote knowledge and awareness of the often debilitating condition.
Only a third (33%) of women and those assigned female at birth would feel comfortable talking to colleagues about periods and menstrual health, it has added.
During the awareness-raising month the charity is calling on employers to address stigma around the condition and provide better support to those affected, by pledging to become an Endometriosis Friendly Employer.
Despite endometriosis affecting one in 10 women and those assigned female at birth, there is low public awareness of the disease, and diagnosis still takes an average of eight years.
Endometriosis symptoms can include chronic pelvic pain, painful periods that interfere with day-to-day activities, pain during or after sex, painful bowel movements, pain when urinating, fatigue, and difficulty getting pregnant.
The charity asked 2,000 members of the public what they would think if a colleague was taking time off work because of chronic pelvic pain and painful periods. The most popular responses were:
- Think that this was a fair reason for taking time off: 37%
- Want to understand how I could support them in future: 37%
- Be worried about their long-term health: 29%
- Want to know more about the condition: 19%
However, 7% of respondents said they would “think this was not a good reason for taking time off”. Faye Farthing, head of campaigns at Endometriosis UK, said: “Whether or not you know it, there’s a high chance that you have colleagues with endometriosis – this is a common but often ignored disease.
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“There is a taboo across society around menstrual health, although that stigma is reducing in places and it is reassuring that many respondents to our survey showed concern for those affected, and an interest in learning more.
“It’s important that employers take action to help break that taboo – not just for the sake of those affected, but for the sake of their organisation. By supporting those with suspected or diagnosed endometriosis to fulfil their potential, and creating an open, understanding culture, organisations can foster a more engaged and effective workforce.
“We urge workplaces to join the diverse range of organisations which have signed up to our Endometriosis Friendly Employer scheme,” she added.
The Endometriosis Friendly Employer scheme supports employers to confirm their commitment to developing a work environment and culture that enable employees with endometriosis to thrive at work.
More than 100 organisations have made this commitment since the scheme launched in 2019, including HSBC, Severn Trent Water, Lil-Lets, Johnson and Johnson, and others.
In other findings from the research, the study found that only 9% of women and those assigned female at birth would be “very comfortable” discussing periods and menstrual health with colleagues.
Another 23% said they would be “comfortable”. The figures rose slightly among those aged 25 to 34 but dropped among over-55s.
It compared with 51% who said they would be comfortable talking about this with parents or guardians, and higher proportions for their spouse (73%), friends (67%) or medical professionals (72%).
Nearly three-quarters (75%) of those polled said they would put off going to see a doctor if they were experiencing painful periods that were interfering with day-to-day activities, a figure which rises to 92% of those aged 16-34.
In addition, it found that, while 49% of the public could identify endometriosis as a gynaecological health condition when given a list of options, this fell to 31% among men in the survey.