Building a period-friendly workplace is beneficial for everyone
Normalizing menstruation in the workplace is good for company culture and thus work performance!
Creating period-friendly workplaces may seem a little low priority on the road to inclusive company culture, but companies that are changing up their operations to accommodate the natural processes of the body are noticing how work performance increases. Such is the case of Coexist in Bristol in the UK and the startup Forza Football in Gothenburg, Sweden. As the former People Development Manager of Coexist says in this article about period policy: “Bringing more awareness to the cycle actually helps to minimize the adverse effects experienced, which, in time supports the employee and therefore the company”. So, what can we take away from these companies when it comes to building a period-friendly workplace? And what can you do as an employee and leader-to-be? Let’s take a look!
From top managers to employees: the importance of losing fear and embarrassment of the word “menstruation” to build a period-friendly work environment
Every day, 800 million people menstruate but in spite of this, it remains a stigmatized bodily function almost everywhere and little or nothing is talked about it. However, during the 2016 Summer Olympics, in a post-competition interview, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui stated that she wasn’t able to perform her best as she was experiencing menstruation pain. Following this, the swimmer received a lot of support and congratulations on social media for having spoken openly about premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
PMS is often accompanied by dysmenorrhea (severe pain and cramping in the lower abdomen that can be as strong as a heart attack), depression, mood swings, lethargy and anxiety, symptoms that can be aggravated by stressful situations such as those experienced at work. Recent studies show that menstrual pain is common among young students in both high school and university and that these pains can have a negative impact on academic performance. Other research shows that this situation continues once you enter the working world. Suffering from PMS at work prevents many cis women and trans men from carrying out their daily tasks with the same effectiveness compared with the rest of their cycle days.
To normalize a situation that happens to 1 in 4 menstruating people, it is important that those suffering PMS can communicate it to their managers and coworkers, and if you’re on the other side, it’s also important that you understand this reality and help your work colleagues feel supported. Losing the fear of speaking openly about menstruation puts the focus on a problem often kept quiet and has a positive impact on performance. As Forza Football’s chief executive Patrik Arnesson admits: “No one had actually told me they had to leave work to go home because of PMS. And then I actually realized that this is a problem and I haven’t even reflected on it“.
The period-friendly work environment begins in the bathrooms and with flexible schedules
The measures that companies and organizations take are almost always what drive change. For individuals within an organization to feel comfortable to talk openly about their menstruation and not feel stigmatized by it, the organization should support them by implementing certain measures with consistency and excellence. Some of these period-friendly initiatives are:
1. Office bathrooms must be able to offer free menstrual products and be properly adapted to menstrual needs, regardless of the gender of the employee
In this sense, free disposable sanitary products should be offered in both men’s and women’s bathrooms. Ideally, start working on having gender-neutral bathrooms, but incorporating these items in all bathrooms is already a sign of inclusion. These free supplies should be replenished periodically and should include non-invasive menstrual products for people who prefer them due to medical or religious reasons. As well as this, bathrooms should guarantee a minimum level of hygiene and include sinks with running water so people who decide to use menstrual cups can wash them properly. Of course, since many menstrual products are disposable, it’s important to have bins that are emptied regularly.
The Scottish government has already decided to launch this initiative in all the bathrooms of government buildings, a measure that also addresses period poverty (not everyone can access menstrual products economically) and encourages social inclusion.
2. Remote working, flexible schedules and the First Day of Period Leave: the 3 ‘musts’ of period-friendly offices
Booking days off, the option to work remotely and having flexible schedules so that people with menstrual pain can be absent from the office if they need to be are three essential support measures, but there is some controversy. Although relatively unknown, these measures exist in some Asian countries such as Japan, China and South Korea. Why are they controversial? Because even though they exist by law, some menstruating people decide not to take advantage of these initiatives for fear of being stigmatized by their peers and not taken seriously.
3. A haven inside the office made for those menstruation days
People with irregular cycles will appreciate office spaces set up for some rest and relaxation time, or even a medicine cabinet with painkillers and a kitchen with infusions to calm any feelings of stress and loss of focus. Even though menstruation comes every 28 days, many people have irregular cycles, so supplying employees with this type of menstrual paradise, in addition to the bathrooms, will be an initiative that will positively impact the wellbeing of menstruating people at work.
A few conclusions to take away when talking about period-friendly offices
Normalizing menstruation and the consequences of PMS at work is essential in building loyalty towards the organization. And as it’s a key point in the creation of company culture, the HR department and managers have a great responsibility in how they approach this issue correctly. If you get the chance to work in a company that’s open to suggestions to build a more friendly work environment, why not ask about organizing talks and training around menstruation? It is a way to encourage knowledge and along with that, respect, tolerance and inclusion at work.
Given that we spend a lot of our time at work, turning it into a period-friendly place is essential. What about you, what initiatives have you got going to make your workplace period-friendly? Or do you have any in mind? Let us know!