It’s Monday. You’re in the office, working frantically, trying to catch up with work deadlines, and surprise, in comes Aunt Flo. You are thankfully prepared for this moment, and you hide the product and power walk to the bathroom to manage Aunt Flo.
There are two issues with this scenario. Firstly, not having access to the necessary period products at the workplace for when Aunt Flo decides to surprise you, and secondly, you feel the need to hide the period product away when walking to the bathroom.
Now, let me add another issue to this scenario.
It’s Monday. You’re at work. Aunt Flo arrives and she unexpectedly brings Mr. Cramps to the party. Mr Cramps causes a lot of unnecessary pain. This pain due to hormonal fluctuations causes intense discomfort along with all the other period symptoms. Because of the meetings and looming deadlines, the only option you have is to take painkillers to keep it moving not to mention Aunt Flo’s unexpected arrival, as you worry that your period will be used as banter by your work colleagues. You’re not the problem here. The lack of policy, awareness and candidness is. It is 2024. How have we not had the necessary talk about how people who menstruate should be entitled to period-positive workspaces in particular period leave?
Yes, period leave. This is the type of leave a menstruator may have the option to take due to their period.
In 2018, Thinx, a popular period-proof underwear brand, found that 42% of people who menstruate experienced period shaming at work. Like you, 73% have hidden a pad or tampon on their way to the bathroom, and 58% report feeling embarrassed at work because of their period. Contrary to the notion that periods hinder productivity, embracing menstruation can contribute to a healthier and more productive work environment. A study by MDPI found that employees who received support for menstrual health reported increased job satisfaction and overall well-being.
Having a period leave policy in the workplace would destigmatise discussion of menstruation in the workplace and would create a safe environment for those with period-related illnesses such as endometriosis and dysmenorrhea to be frank about their conditions. Now as an employer, you’re wondering, what is the benefit for my company? In the largest study of its kind, a 2019 survey of more than 32,000 women aged 15-45 in the Netherlands found ‘presenteeism’—lost productivity when employees are not fully functioning due to illness or injury—during menstruation accounts for nine days of lost productivity per person each year. According to the researchers, two-thirds of the surveyed women “wished they had greater flexibility in their tasks and working hours… during their periods”.
To date, menstrual leave policies exist across the globe in places such as Japan, Taiwan (three days a month), South Korea, Indonesia, Zambia and Mexico. Recently, Canada made it a national policy that free menstrual products should be available in federally regulated workplaces.
Ultimately, a lot of education would be needed in the workplace for colleagues to understand the menstrual cycle and the various symptoms menstruators go through. This would be vital in work environments where workspaces advocate for cultivating an environment of honesty and trust. And I know just the right organisation that does great work in educating people on menstrual health and setting up period cramp simulators for men. (This is a humble brag moment to promote my NGO, Qrate. Do check us out).
So here are a few tips that can make your workplace a better place for people who menstruate.
- Normalise talking about menstruation in appropriate ways. Nobody should feel ashamed to tell their boss that they’re having a bad day due to menstrual issues.
- Keep menstrual products on hand, just in case. Make them available without people having to request them. Ideally in bathrooms.
- Keep bathrooms clean and ensure that there the sufficient disposal solutions in every workplace bathroom.
- Ideally, have menstruators at the management level in your company who can be instrumental in making policies and workplace conditions that affect menstruators and give input on decisions, but failing that, have representation or HR consultants to advise management.
- DO NOT monitor bathroom breaks.
- DO NOT make or allow jokes about PMS.
We can find relief and comfort in knowing that establishing a period-positive workspace including period leave works. Why? Because countries such as Spain have enacted it as law, corporates such as Zomato India and Unilever have set the example and have openly advocated for the policy. What is needed from us menstruators is to continue to share our authentic and lived realities, whether it be via social media or just by talking openly without the stigma attached to it. Then, just maybe, we won’t have to panic about period products whilst at work.