Monthly period pain is cramping the ability of many women to do their jobs.
Netherlands scientists asked almost 33,000 women ages 15 to 45 to discuss their menstrual cycles and how their symptoms impacted their work between July and October 2017. The result: women lose almost nine days of workplace productivity on average from menstrual cramp discomfort, which is caused by uterine contractions. And just over 3% of them said that the symptoms get so severe that they stay home from work during every or almost every period.
The analysis published in the British Medical Journal found that more than 26,000 women attempt to push through the pain each month, but they are often not working at 100% — and so researchers recorded an average self-reported loss of workplace productivity of 33% on an average of 23.2 days over the year. This presenteeism — or working while physically sick or mentally “checked out” — added up to an average of 8.9 days of lost productivity annually.
Another 4,514 women said that they called out during these painful periods instead of coming into work, but only one in five of them told their boss that the sick day was due to period pain. This is due to the stigma around discussing matters related to the menstrual cycle publicly, even though more than 800 million girls and women are menstruating on any given day. For example, women who dropped a tampon in a 2002 study were seen as less competent and less likeable.
And most U.S. states still tax tampons and sanity pads — even though they are a medical necessity for the female half of the population for about 40 years of their lives — while erectile dysfunction aid Viagra is not. Nine states, including New York, Florida, Illinois and Nevada — have eliminated the tampon tax, but a woman’s monthly cycle is still a taboo topic in many places.
“There is an urgent need for more focus on the impact of these symptoms, especially in women aged under 21 years, for discussions of treatment options with women of all ages and, ideally, more flexibility for women who work or go to school,” the Netherlands researchers concluded in the new study.
About 40%-50% of women have primary dysmenorrhea — the medical term for painful periods. And a 2012 study published in American Family Physician found that one in five women suffers period symptoms painful enough to disrupt her daily activities. And 10% suffer endometriosis, a uterine tissue disorder that can cause pelvic pain and make period symptoms even worse. In fact, some gynecologists have said that period cramps are often be more painful than heart attacks (which often produce mild pain than the excruciating chest pain most people associate with them), or have likened severe menstrual cramps to the pain of going into labor.
So some countries — including Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and China — have begun offering paid menstrual leave in recent years, and private Indian companies Culture Machine and Gozoop, Australia’s Victorian Women’s Trust, and U.K. employer Coexist also have instituted paid period leave for female employees. But whether such policies help or hinder gender equality in the workplace is up for debate.