In the UK, endometriosis affects around 1 in every 10 women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB.) Worldwide, endometriosis affects approximately 176 million people and in women struggling with infertility, the incidence of endometriosis is estimated to be as high as 50%.

Endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, affecting 1.5 million women or those AFAB. The cause of endometriosis is currently unknown and as of yet, there is no cure. It’s notoriously difficult to get a diagnosis of endometriosis with sufferers waiting 8 years on average from the onset of their symptoms.

As an employer, you may be wondering how you can support employees living with endometriosis. In this Wellspace blog, we’ll explain what endometriosis is, the impact of endometriosis in the workplace and ways of supporting employees with endometriosis

What Is Endometriosis?

Person's hands holding mini plastic womb representing endometriosis.Endometriosis is a medical condition where cells and tissue similar to womb lining grows elsewhere in the body, usually within the pelvic cavity, ovaries or fallopian tubes. Every month this tissue builds up and breaks down in the same way as a womb lining does in relation to a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, unlike womb lining, which would then be shed via a period, the blood and tissue has no way of escaping and so leads to pain, inflammation and adhesions (scar tissue.)

Endometriosis can affect women of any age but is particularly prevalent in those of child-bearing age (i.e. between puberty and menopause.) Endometriosis is a long-term health condition with significant and far-reaching effects for those living with it.

Symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Significant period pain and heavy periods
  • Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, constipation and diarrhoea, particularly around menstruation
  • Fatigue
  • Fertility problems
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Depression

What Are The Effects of Endometriosis On Employees?

With so many symptoms to contend with, it’s no wonder that those living with endometriosis are likely to experience issues at work as a result of their condition.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Endometriosis published an Inquiry Report in 2020, which reported that endometriosis costs the UK economy a staggering £8.2 billion a year in loss of work and healthcare, not to mention the reduced quality of life of those living with the condition.

Here are just some of the ways endometriosis might impact employees.

Sickness and absence

Many employees with endometriosis will need to take time off work, either when they’re unwell during flare-ups or to attend medical appointments. This may be reflected in their sickness and absence record and a reduction in earnings.

Stress and mental health issues

Those experiencing endometriosis symptoms are likely to experience stress and uncertainty when undergoing investigations and awaiting a diagnosis. After receiving a diagnosis of endometriosis, they may feel relieved to know what is going on or shocked, upset and worried about the future, particularly since there is no known cause or cure.

Employees with endometriosis who want to start a family may also face fertility issues and have multiple appointments, medications, and unpleasant side effects to deal with in their attempts to become and stay pregnant.

Difficulties when at work

Employees living with endometriosis are likely to have times when they feel unwell whilst at work, whether it’s pain, nausea, fatigue or menstrual problems. They may not want their colleagues to know about their condition or may be afraid to seem like they’re making a fuss or not pulling their weight, especially if their team don’t understand endometriosis.

According to the Endometriosis Inquiry Report, many of those living with endometriosis have experienced a loss of income due to the condition and have fears about losing their job or needing to give up work because of endometriosis.

Ways To Support Employees With Endometriosis

When it comes to supporting employees with endometriosis, awareness and understanding are key. By educating yourself and your team about what endometriosis is and what the effects are on a person’s life and wellbeing, you can better support employees living with endometriosis.

Not everyone with endometriosis will experience severe symptoms and even those who do may not be keen to share their diagnosis and experiences with the people they work with. If someone has endometriosis but is coping well at work, they might want to keep that part of their life separate for their own wellbeing. However, if an employee with endometriosis is struggling, they may find it challenging to cope in a busy role or workplace without adequate support from their employer.

If you want to support an employee with endometriosis ask if there is anything you can do to help and consider making reasonable adjustments where possible. If an employee with endometriosis experiences debilitating periods, could they possibly work from home or work shorter shifts during this time in their cycle?

Allow employees with endometriosis to use hot water bottles or heat pads and to take frequent breaks to take painkillers. Ensure that employees have easy access to clean, private staff-only bathrooms with adequate facilities for changing sanitary wear and handwashing along with space to change clothes if needed.

If an employee with endometriosis experiences pain and fatigue, can they do some or all of their job sitting down instead of standing up for long periods?

Even small adjustments can make a big difference to an employee with endometriosis battling chronic pain and debilitating symptoms.

UK charity, Endometriosis UK has an Endometriosis Friendly Employer Scheme that provides further guidance for employers around supporting employees with endometriosis.

Get In Touch

We hope this blog has helped you in supporting employees with endometriosis.

At Wellspace, we offer accessible expert wellbeing support to employers and organisations with a workplace wellbeing app to help employees monitor and improve their wellbeing, alongside comprehensive health and wellbeing training.

For more information about how Wellspace can help you support employees with endometriosis and prioritise employee wellbeing in your organisation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.