BS 30416, Menstruation, menstrual health and menopause in the workplace

Over the last few years in the United Kingdom, menstrual and menopausal health has been increasingly discussed in parliament, in the mainstream media, and on social media. This visibility of menopause and menstruation has already led to changes on a political level. These changes have included the provision of free menstrual products in schools, the appointment of England’s first-ever Menopause Employment Champion, and the launch of the Women’s Health Strategy. Recent discussions have highlighted the need for workplaces to improve how they support employees experiencing menstruation and menopause transition. Nevertheless, only a minority of UK workplaces have implemented specific policies that address menstrual and menopausal health and wellbeing. Although menstruation and peri/menopause are natural bodily processes, some women, and other gender minorities (such as transgender men and nonbinary people) may need support and adjustments to ensure that they are able to attend work, effectively carry out their role, and benefit fully from workplace initiatives. The creation of this British Standard on menstrual and menopausal health is therefore a timely, vital, and ground-breaking step towards gender equality in the workplace.

Why do we need this guidance?

Workplaces were first created at a time when women were only a minority of the workforce and were not prioritised by employers. Our workplaces and working practices have therefore usually been designed by men, for men. For this reason, once women began to enter the workforce, they had to adapt to an environment that was not created with their health and well-being in mind. Today, a significant proportion of employees experience peri/menopause[1] during their careers. Yet, workplaces have not always been transformed to accommodate or support their specific needs. Hence, for the benefit of employees, employers, and the UK’s economic growth, it is vital that workplaces cater for all employees. Although some strides have already been made to address gender inequality, such as the provision of parental leave and the implementation of equality and diversity policies, there is much more that employers can do to ensure that menstruating employees have equal access to their places of work, receive adequate support, and can achieve their full potential.

Although menstruation and peri/menopause are natural bodily processes that are experienced by approximately 50% of the population, they have traditionally been stigmatised, overlooked, and misunderstood, both within workplaces and in wider society. This silence can explain why past and present employers may neither have wished to, nor felt able to, discuss menstruation and peri/menopause with their employees. Furthermore, we are surrounded by misinformation about menopausal and menstrual health, such as in the news, on social media, and in our everyday conversations. These myths and misconceptions can negatively impact the health and well-being of employees. In addition, existing narratives about menopause and menstruation in the workplace (such as seen on television) can perpetuate inaccurate and negative stereotypes. As guidelines on menstrual and menopausal health can encourage open conversations and disseminate accurate information, they are important for creating positive cultural change both within the workplace and beyond. Indeed, some employees may not receive support from family, friends, or medical professionals, and therefore may be unsure of how to manage peri/menopause and may be unaware of the support that is available. Workplace guidelines can therefore help to raise awareness and improve knowledge about menstrual and menopausal health and well-being for all employees. As awareness around menstruation and peri/menopause is growing and they are increasingly becoming normal topics of everyday conversation, it is easier than ever before for employers to speak openly about these topics, access information, and provide inclusive training. 

Besides their positive contribution to an inclusive work culture, workplace guidelines on menstrual and menopausal health can be helpful, or even vital, for employees to access workspaces, perform their work effectively, and feel supported by their employers. Most employees who menstruate or experience peri/menopause manage their health and well-being independently. Hence, many employees may not require any special adjustments. For these employees, minor changes to the workplace, such as comfortable seating, being allowed to use a fan at their desks, or being able to stretch, may help alleviate their discomfort and improve the quality of their working lives. There are, however, some employees for whom workplace adjustments and support are vital. For example, endometriosis is a condition that can cause debilitating symptoms such as pain and excessive bleeding. Although awareness of endometriosis remains low and doctors can take many years to diagnose it, endometriosis is a common health condition.  Employers and occupational health teams should therefore consider endometriosis as seriously as they would more widely recognised conditions such as diabetes. It is estimated that 10% of women have endometriosis. Symptoms can impact the attendance of employees, as well as their ability to complete tasks effectively. Employees who have endometriosis may therefore require reasonable adjustments to their working lives, such as flexible working, time off for medical appointments, and access to occupational health services. Employees with other menstrual health conditions, such as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), may also require reasonable adjustments.

Which employees are included in this guidance?

The British Standard BS 30416, Menstruation, menstrual health and menopause in the workplace – Guide, aims to support the health and well-being of all employees who menstruate or experience peri/menopause. There are many actions that employers can take to improve the accommodation of all employees. Including using non-stigmatising language such as ‘menstrual products’ instead of ‘feminine hygiene products’, providing suitable facilities in which employees can access menstrual products, creating a supportive culture, and appointing workplace menstruation and menopause advocates.

The diverse needs of women and people who menstruate are often overlooked and can be neglected by policies that do not adopt an intersectional approach.  This guidance, therefore, recognises that not all experiences of menopause transition and menstruation are the same. Indeed, employees’ experiences can be shaped by their ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and socio-economic status. For instance, safe spaces and accurate information about peri/menopause may be especially important for employees from communities in which menopause remains a taboo subject.

To tackle another misconception, peri/menopause does not always begin after the age of 45. Some employees may experience menopause prematurely. Others may experience temporary or permanent menopause due to medical intervention such as breast cancer treatment or surgically induced menopause.

It is also important to note that the new standard is beneficial for employees in a diverse range of roles and workplace settings. These include mobile roles (e.g. police officers), static roles (e.g. cashiers), highly physical roles (e.g. construction workers), and senior executives. Across different sectors and types of workplaces, it's key to tailor their practices and support to best suit their employees’ roles and circumstances. For instance, adjustments can be made to uniforms, PPE, working patterns, and artificial lighting.

Finally, it is important to add here that these guidelines are of benefit to all employees whether they menstruate or not. The guidelines encourage a more open and inclusive work culture around menstrual health and peri/menopause that can also be of benefit to men and others who do not menstruate. For example, an open work culture can help men to understand and support their family, friends, and colleagues who are experiencing menopause. In addition, inclusive conversations about menstruation and peri/menopause in the workplace can encourage men to talk more openly about their own health and well-being. Finally, as many of the guidelines in this document refer to health and well-being, they could also benefit men’s working lives. For instance, the provision of bins in men’s bathrooms can also benefit men who bleed due to their having received radiotherapy for prostate cancer.

How are these guidelines beneficial for employers?

Guidelines on menstrual and menopausal health can also have significant benefits for employers. Today, when choosing where to apply for work or which job offers to accept, candidates often consider whether workplaces are socially aware, diverse, and inclusive. The existence of inclusive guidelines on peri/menopause and menstruation may therefore affect a candidate’s decision on which job offer to accept. With the current recruitment challenges and skills shortages in the United Kingdom, it is therefore even more important that employers ensure that their work culture, workspaces, policies, and practices, are accommodating of, and attractive to, potential employees who menstruate or are experiencing menopause transition.

Awareness of menopausal and menstrual health, the implementation of effective policies, and the creation of an inclusive workplace culture are also vital to the retention of current employees. If workplaces encourage open conversation, employees are more likely to ask for support that will help them to access the workplace and effectively carry out their work. More broadly, by supporting the menstrual and menopausal health of their employees, workplaces can improve the general health and well-being of their employees. Improved health and well-being can not only lead to their having longer and more fulfilling careers, but they can also have a positive impact on their family lives.

As menstrual health conditions and some symptoms of the peri/menopause can lead to absenteeism, presenteeism, and low satisfaction at work, they can have a negative impact on workplaces if adjustments are not made. This can include the loss of experienced employees who add value to the company as well as the financial implications of absenteeism, employee tribunals, staff recruitment, and the training of new staff. These consequences are not inevitable and could be avoided through the provision of adjustments and the creation of a positive workplace environment. Hence, small investments, effective workplace guidelines, and inclusive communication may result in employers saving both time and money.

To conclude, adopting menstrual and menopausal health guidelines (such as those recommended in the new guidelines by the British Standard Institute) is beneficial for both employees and employers. It can create a positive workplace culture, job satisfaction, and high staff retention rates. By incorporating the BSI guidelines and emphasising the importance of menopausal and menstrual health, workplaces can make an important contribution towards tackling gender inequalities. Adopting menstrual and menopausal health guidelines in the workplace is therefore an important step towards a more equitable and just society.

About the author

This blog was written by Dr. Maria Tomlinson who is a lecturer in public communication and gender at the University of Sheffield. Maria’s research examines how journalists, NGOs, and advocates, communicate with the public about gender, health, and social inequalities. Her published work includes the monograph, From Menstruation to the Menopause: The Female Fertility Cycle in Contemporary Women's Writing in French (Liverpool University Press). Her current Leverhulme funded project examines the impact of the menstrual movement on young people's knowledge and perceptions of menstruation as well as related health and social issues (such as period poverty and endometriosis). Based on these findings, Maria has worked with menstrual advocacy specialist, Acushla Young, to create guidance for communicating effectively with young people about menstruation. Maria chaired the committee for the Workplace Standard on Menstrual and Menopausal Health.

[1] The term peri/menopause is used in this blog to refer to menopause transition.