Article by Gynaecologist Dr Nitu Bajekal and Nutritionist Rohini Bajekal.
This complex condition is poorly understood despite how common it is. As an employer, it is almost a given that you will have employees living with symptoms such as irregular periods, acne and infertility, although many will not be aware that this is in fact PCOS – approximately 75% of people with PCOS are not yet diagnosed. Here are some tips to better support people with PCOS in the workplace:
This employee benefit can be hugely helpful especially if it includes a mental health offering (such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and access to nutrition professionals. This can help with behavioural change and setting healthy nutrition habits. In addition, a gym membership or health plan can be a useful addition as movement has been shown to benefit PCOS in a number of ways – with mental health, improving insulin sensitivity, decreasing androgen levels and helping maintain a healthy weight.
Ensure that employees are allowed to take time off to attend doctors’ appointments. PCOS is associated with a higher risk of issues such as infertility, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, type 2 diabetes, womb cancer, pregnancy complications and possibly cardiovascular disease. Going through IVF is incredibly time-consuming and stressful so an understanding employer makes a huge difference.
This is hugely beneficial to so many people, especially anyone who has a chronic condition such as PCOS. Symptoms such as irregular periods, fatigue and anxiety can mean that life is unpredictable and having the option to work from home can offer some leeway and flexibility.
This is a great way to encourage healthy practices among employees. For example, offering a mindfulness sessions or yoga class at lunchtimes, complimentary fresh fruit in the office and educational talks. A wellness programme has also been shown to improve motivation and productivity. Within this, you could also feature talks on menstrual health and related health issues to raise awareness of conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis.
As one of the most common symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods, people with the condition may suddenly come onto their period when they least expect it. Ensuring washrooms are clean, private and well-stocked with menstrual products is a good way to show consideration to anyone who menstruates. Also ensure the office is access-friendly (e.g. having a lift rather than just stairs) and has comfy seating for when people need a moment to rest.
Every individual with PCOS has a different experience and symptoms. Encourage line managers to support their teams and set a positive example. For example, avoiding commenting on people’s physical appearances (such as weight), gossip and any harmful behaviour that is often seen in workplaces. Many people with PCOS struggle as the symptoms of the condition are stigmatised – from weight gain to acne to excess hair growth – so offering support is essential. Everyone in the workplace should feel included and accepted so ensuring your office is a safe space for all genders should be a priority, as PCOS also affects non-binary and trans people.
Therefore, while PCOS is often dealt with behind the scenes by individuals, employers can help support those living with the condition by ensuring they have policies and practices that do not discriminate but instead actively support employees’ health and wellbeing. Most importantly, listening to employees who have PCOS and taking their feedback on board can make a profound difference to their quality of life, both in the workplace and outside.
When faced with her own premature menopause, Dr. Nitu Bajekal, the “plant-based gynae,” learned that the Western medicine in which she had trained and practiced had too long ignored the real impact of nutrition and lifestyle on both health and disease. To allow women to achieve their full health potential, lifestyle medicine and conventional medicine can complement each other, offering an appropriate blend of solutions for the individual patient. Based on her research, 35 years’ clinical practice, and her personal experience of a plant-based diet―with input from her daughter, nutritionist and former PCOS sufferer Rohini Bajekal―she offers this practical lifestyle guide to recovery from polycystic ovarian syndrome. Dr. Bajekal shows how this endocrine condition can be managed via the six pillars of lifestyle medicine, with interventions of Western medicine available as adjuncts as needed. The book features a 21-day lifestyle plan for hormonal health together with tried-and-tested plant-based recipes by the authors and illuminating case histories.