Are you one of those people whose energy is influenced by their menstrual cycle? If so, you might be too embarrassed to tell your colleagues why you feel tired and stressed once a month and that you just need to slow things down with a comfort drink. For lots of people, menstrual pain can also affect performance, which can be difficult to go through in a performance-obsessed society. But rest assured: your discomfort is legitimate!
In this article, Zeineb Khalfallah, the mind behind Menstrual Flow and the digital communication guru at Flow, a firm specializing in flexibility at work, shares some tips to destigmatize menstruation in the workplace.
Menstrual pain is still taboo and a source of discomfort at work
According to one study that surveyed 21,573 young women* in 2019, 40% of respondents said their menstruation impacted classroom concentration and school exams. Twenty percent also pointed out that menstruation is one of the reasons behind absenteeism at school. Staggering, right?
Unfortunately, talking about menstruation in public and especially at work is still an awkward thing to do. One surveyconducted in 2021 by OpinionWay for the organization Dans Ma Culotte explored menstrualphobia and fully underscored just how awkward it can get.
Participants were 18 and over, and 55% of them thought that talking about menstruation in public is inappropriate, while 33% admitted that they never talk about it in their daily lives at all! It’s absurd that talking about menstruation is “inappropriate” when it’s a natural phenomenon and a promise of new life.
But even though menstruation is still a taboo subject in the workplace and school environment, it’s important that people who suffer from discomfort during their periods can talk about it. Destigmatizing menstruation in workplaces and classrooms could lead companies (or schools) to change the way they do things and offer flexible measures to people who suffer from dysmenorrhea or other discomforts related to menstruation (adenomyosis, endometriosis, etc.).
What solutions can we offer our employer so we can better experience our menstrual cycle?
- Dare to talk about it
A 2019 study analyzed the impact of dysmenorrhea on work performance by surveying 32,748 Dutch women* aged 15 to 45.
What did they find? Fourteen percent of respondents said they missed work or school during their period, and nearly 3.5% said that happens every month.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Only 20.1% of these women spoke to their employer about the impact of their menstruation to explain their absenteeism or lack of motivation.
What about your team? How hard is it to talk about menstruation in your particular department? Can you talk about your menstrual symptoms or the impact of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) on your mood without worrying about being judged? Does your work environment promote well-being and mental health?
Open a dialogue with your colleagues and see if you can’t set up a discussion group specializing in menstrual well-being! The effort won’t cost you a penny, but you’ll undoubtedly create an environment of trust in which menstruating people can talk openly about their expectations and emotions.
- Flexible hours
The study with the 32,748 Dutch women also highlighted the expectations of people suffering from menstruation-related discomfort.
In fact, 67.7% of respondents mentioned flex work (flexible hours, unlimited leave, teleworking, etc.) as a solution to improve menstrual well-being. We’re cyclical beings, just like the seasons, and our work schedules should be the same.
So you can talk to your company’s human resources manager to get some relief during menstruation (or pre-menstruation, depending on when you need support).
- Menstrual holidays
Yep, menstrual leave exists, and several companies promoting mental health at work have started offering it. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a little hope in humanity! Although the idea seems modern, it was actually born in Japan in 1947. Since then, several countries have followed suit, including South Korea in 2000, Taiwan in 2013, Zambia in 2015, and Italy in 2017.
Companies that offer it generally give menstruating employees two days of paid leave per month.
So now what? Maybe it’s time to take the plunge and create a special menstruation discussion group at work? We really encourage you to do exactly that! You’ll help normalize the subject and give a voice to people who suffer from menstrual pain. Stronger together! And above all, you’ll help ensure our emotions are validated and that we’re listened to all month long, not just 3 weeks out of 4 😉
*Note: “Woman” and “women” are the terms used in these studies. They refer to all people with a uterus, regardless of their gender identity.