a woman timidly looking into her boss's office and then talking to him about her Endometriosis

How to Discuss Endometriosis with Your Boss

I remember the day I had to tell my (male) boss about my endometriosis. I’d been working with endometriosis for ten years and had never told anyone at work about it. As there is still so much shame about menstruation, it’s not a topic that lends itself easily to casual observation. I work in an office job, so masking endometriosis pain isn’t as difficult as it would be if I worked a more physical job, but that doesn’t mean endometriosis doesn’t affect my work.

By the time I made the decision to talk to my boss, my endometriosis had moved from once-a-month-cramps to all-out chronic pain. I was no longer able to plan my work around my cycle and I needed heavy painkillers to deal with the pain. The painkillers sometimes made me groggy, which didn’t bring out my best work. If I didn’t want to get in trouble for missing the ball on some issues, I needed to have that talk with my boss.

Telling people about endometriosis is always difficult, but even more so when you have to do it in a professional setting with a male boss. But here is what I learned from my experience.

1. Don’t be ashamed

A lot of people are embarrassed to talk about periods, but if you go start talking about endometriosis in a frank and open manner as if you’re talking about the common cold, it’s easier for your boss to listen without feeling embarrassed. Treat it as any other illness or disability that could affect your work.

2. Have all your facts ready

What helped me with my discussion with my boss, who was very misogynistic and who I didn’t get along with, was to have a clear explanation about what endometriosis is and how it affects me. I was able to answer his questions and be firm in how badly the disease impacts my life, not just at work. There isn’t a lot of awareness about endometriosis and sometimes even we who suffer from the disease are in the dark about certain aspects. So it’s important to do your research and come up with a way to explain endometriosis that is easy to understand.

3. Know what accommodations, if any, you need

Your boss will have questions for you and if they’re a good boss, they will ask what they can do to help. Make sure you know what you want. Whether it’s being able to focus on less-demanding tasks during days when endo is bad, or working from home during your period, or just understanding that you won’t always be at your brightest, you need to be able to tell them how they can help.

Telling your boss about endometriosis is scary. But if the flare-ups and pain are influencing how well you’re doing your job, you owe it to them and to yourself to explain your situation. Even if they can’t offer you any workplace accommodations, at least they understand that when you have an off-day, you’re not just slacking. A little bit of understanding can go a long way.

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