‘Period’ might be much less of a taboo word today than it has been historically, but society still has a long way to go when it comes to talking about menstruation in the workplace.
Almost everyone who menstruates has experienced a situation where their period has negatively affected them at work. Out of all these people, however, you’ll probably find very few that have been able to openly discuss this in the workplace.
So why are we still living in the dark ages when it comes to discussing something that affects around half of the world’s population every single month?
Why don’t we talk about periods at work?
Women have fought a long, hard battle throughout history just to get a seat in the office, let alone the boardroom. As part of this fight for workplace equality, women have had to deal with sexist jibes about being ‘hysterical’ and frequently had their opinions shrugged off because ‘it must be that time of the month’.
We may have made great strides in the past century in regards to women gaining equality in the workplace, but clearly there is still a long way to go before discussing periods at work loses its stigma.
As recently as 2017, a man reported his female colleague to HR after she explained to him that her hot water bottle was for her severe menstrual cramps. In 2019, a survey found that one third of men think it’s unprofessional to discuss periods in the workplace.
Should we talk about periods at work?
Although some people who menstruate are lucky enough to never experience any unpleasant period-related symptoms, the vast majority will do. This can be directly related to their period, in the form of PMS, or both.
As long as society continues to uphold the period taboo, people who menstruate will continue to suffer the consequences. This negative impact comes in many forms. It could be the guilt of lying to an employer and colleagues, or the consequences of an unexplained absence. There is also the risk of overwork to make up for time missed during an absence. Many menstruators will also soldier on through physical and mental discomfort during work, rather than simply tell their boss they are having severe period symptoms.
All of this secrecy and stigma creates stress and anxiety for people with periods. Both of these heavily influence the hormonal system, along with other negative health effects, and can cause their health to deteriorate even further. Some people will even leave their jobs due to being unable to manage their period and their work responsibilities.
Menstrual health is one of the biggest factors in women’s overall health, and the sooner we start talking about it openly in the workplace, the closer we’ll get to true equality at work.
How to talk about your period at work
If you’ve decided that you’d like to try talking about your period at work, then bravo, we salute you! Talking about your period isn’t easy, and can often be met with outdated attitudes. Until we normalise it though, these attitudes won’t change. With that in mind, here are a few tips for how you can successfully – and professionally – talk about your period at work.
Suss the situation
Before you book out a conference room to inform your colleagues about all the details of your menstrual cycle, think about what situations at work would be appropriate for you to talk about your period in. Approach talking about your period with your employer in the same way you would talk about any other health issue. Keep it professional, appropriate and don’t feel like you need to go into a huge amount of detail to justify yourself.
Identify the issue
If you’d like to talk to your boss, think carefully about exactly what you’d like to say to them about your period. Does standing on your feet all day serving customers make you anxious about leaks, because you have a heavy flow? Do you find that your relationships with your colleagues have suffered due to PMS? Being clear about the exact issue you’re having with your period at work will make life much easier – for both of you.
Approach talking about your period at work like you would talking about another chronic health issue, like a migraine, for example. If you were struggling with chronic migraines at work, you might suggest that you work from home or switch to flexible hours to help manage your symptoms. You might want to suggest similar solutions to manage your period symptoms. Some companies (like Intimina!) even offer period-friendly workplace schemes, allowing employees to work fewer hours and rearrange meetings that fall during their period.
If and when you choose to talk about your period symptoms at work, keep in mind these tips and advice – and we hope you feel better soon!