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January 31, 2023

Menstrual Symptoms Hurt Workplace Productivity of Many Women, UVA Health Study Finds

Woman curled in bed experiencing premenstrual symptoms.

Menstrual symptoms reduce the workplace productivity of many American women, with 45.2% reporting that their symptoms require them to take days off, according to a new UVA Health survey. The study also found that digital health apps can help women better manage their menstrual symptoms, improve their productivity and reduce the amount of leave they need to take.

Significant majorities of women reported that menstrual symptoms had a moderate to severe effect on factors affecting their work, according to researchers from the UVA School of Medicine, Flo Health, University College London, Technische Universitaet Berlin and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Affected areas include energy levels (89.3% of women surveyed), mood (86.9%), concentration (77.2%) and interest in their work (71.6%). Women who reported needing to take time off missed an average of 5.8 days of work.

“This study demonstrates that menstrual symptoms have a significant effect on women’s lives,” said Jennifer L. Payne, MD, the study’s senior author and director of the Reproductive Psychiatry Research Program at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “I think these results demonstrate just how resilient women are – they are able to continue to work and be productive despite the significant impact that menstrual symptoms have.”

How Digital Apps Could Help

To better understand how menstrual symptoms affect work productivity, the researchers analyzed survey responses from 1,867 women ages 18 and older who use the Flo app, which helps women track their menstrual cycle or track their mood or physical symptoms during and after pregnancy. The three most reported menstrual symptoms were cramps (91%), fatigue (85%) and bloating (81%). 

Many of the women surveyed did not feel supported by their workplace in dealing with these symptoms. According to the study, 49.7% did not feel they could talk freely about issues related to their menstrual cycle with their manager, while 48.4% said they did not receive support from their manager for issues caused by their cycle. In addition, 94.6% reported not having any specific benefit or wellness program that could help.

What the researchers found could help, however, are digital health interventions such as the Flo app. More than half the women surveyed said the app helped them be prepared for and aware of their body’s signals; feel supported; improve how they manage their period symptoms; and be more open with others about their symptoms and how they make them feel. App users who found it helpful were 18% to 25% less likely to report that their menstrual symptoms affected their work productivity. Women who said the app helped them manage their symptoms, increase awareness of their body’s signals, feel supported and improve their mood were 12% to 16% less likely to take days off.

“Organizations would do well to pay attention to this study and promote environments where women can feel comfortable in addressing their needs surrounding the menstrual cycle.” Payne said. “Women are already doing the hard work of coping with menstrual symptoms on a monthly basis. Digital interventions geared toward minimizing women’s symptoms and maximizing coping skills are one way organizations can support their women employees.”

Findings Published

The researchers have published their findings in Digital Health. The research team included Sonia Ponzo, Aidan Wickham, Ryan Bamford, Tara Radovic, Liudmila Zhaunova, Kimberly Peven, Anna Klepchukova and Payne. 

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog at http://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu.

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