Why menstrual leave is important? Could Menstrual Leave Make A Difference in Workplace?


Why menstrual leave is important?

Could Menstrual Leave Make A Difference in Workplace?

Jessie, a 28-year-old New York City editor, fainted at work three months into her new position in early 2020. They were aware that their menstrual cycle would most likely begin that day, and that they would be in pain, but they were required to be at work to produce a video as their team was short-staffed.

They made the decision not to call in ill. They claim, that I just don't think a period counts as a disease.

So, when Jessie started experiencing pain in their belly and lower back, they took ibuprofen and tried to return to work. However, after 15 minutes, their body felt heavy, strained, and feeble. I was blacking out, Jessie explains.

Everything was hazy, and I couldn't answer properly. They were assisted to a couch, where they remained in the foetal position until a health-and-safety officer passed by and dispatched an ambulance to transport them to the hospital.

Jessie didn't want or need an ambulance; all they wanted to do was go home and rest. They claim that if Jessie had an employer-sponsored benefit, she would be more comfortable taking time off or working from home when in discomfort.

Employees at some companies are entitled to a perk known as menstrual leave. It gives employees who have uncomfortable menstrual or menopause symptoms the option of working remotely and taking a predetermined number of paid vacations or sick days each year, in addition to the nationally mandated paid vacation or sick leave.

Menstrual leave has been around for at least a century, with national policies implemented in the Soviet Union in 1922, Japan in 1947, and Indonesia in 1948. However, it is still uncommon in many large global economies, including Jessie's own country of the United States. However, as more and more organisations throughout the world begin to implement the benefit, a movement supporting it is forming.

Women, transgender and non-binary workers who menstruate would benefit if the policy were widely adopted: they would have direct access to rest when they need it most, be happier and more productive at work as a result, and find it simpler to stay in the workforce. However, after menstrual leave became popular, some critics have claimed that the benefit is unjust or that it will further stigmatise those who have periods. Is menstruation leave beneficial or detrimental to workers who are unable to take the time off they require?

We're expected to pick ourselves and get to work.

Menstrual symptoms differ from one person to the next. While some women breeze through their monthly cycle, others, especially those with endometriosis or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), deal with a slew of unpleasant side effects. Cramps, backaches, and migraines are among the most common causes of discomfort in women of reproductive age, according to studies.

Regardless, most women try to push through and go to work. According to Gabrielle Golding, a senior lecturer at Adelaide Law School in South Australia, this is often because they are afraid of being viewed as weak or incapable of executing their jobs if they disclose menstrual-related symptoms to their superiors.

When we're literally losing blood, we're expected to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and go to work. Caldwell, Chloe.

According to the results of a 2021 survey conducted by the Victorian Women's Trust and Circle In, an HR software provider based in Melbourne, Australia, 70% of the 700 respondents didn't feel comfortable talking to their managers about how they could accommodate their menopausal symptoms (which often include heavy periods), and 83 per cent said their work was negatively affected as a result. And this is exacerbated in the absence of a menstrual leave plan, according to Golding, with disastrous consequences, such as women ignoring their physical and mental health.

Working through the pain is also bad news for employers, since presenteeism accounts for an average of nine days of lost productivity per worker per year, according to a Radboud University survey of 32,748 women in the Netherlands conducted in 2019. According to them, this makes period a workplace concern.

In her 20s, a woman claims she white-knuckled her way through employment as a barista and waitress, which led to her own normalisation of the wrath, anxiety, and severe cramps she experienced on a monthly basis. She was only identified with PMDD — a particularly severe form of premenstrual syndrome – and given correct medical treatment after fainting many times in 2017.

Caldwell, who is 36 years old and lives in New York, argues that the American hustling culture has led to the belief that workers should suppress their wants. We're expected to drag ourselves up by the bootstraps and go to work when we're really losing blood, she adds.

According to Golding, employees like Caldwell, who might otherwise reject or internalise their pain, can benefit from a menstrual-leave policy.

Feeling deeply respected.

In nations where menstrual employees have hitherto been disregarded, the idea of introducing these policies is gaining support.

One of the countries that prioritise this advantage is Australia. This is partially due to need; since the Australian labour market has reduced as a result of the epidemic, businesses across the board are looking for ways to retain their best employees, and period leave is a sought-after perk that could help keep staff loyal and engaged.

According to Mary Crooks, executive director of the Victorian Women's Trust in Melbourne, increased interest in menstruation leave is linked to broader cultural shifts around reproductive health that have been in action since before the pandemic. For example, beginning in January 2019, menstruation items have been exempted from the country's Goods and Services Tax (GST); in addition, certain public schools are providing free pads and tampons to reduce female student absenteeism. In addition, the Australian government recently established a $58 million (£33 million; $42.4 million) national action plan to expand endometriosis treatment.

Crooks' gender-equality organisation implemented 12 days of menstruation and menopausal leave in 2016 after conducting a study of around 3,500 people with periods the year before, which revealed that finding time to rest was the top issue for respondents (58 per cent). Since then, the organisation has released a menstrual leave template, as well as other tools, to assist people in all sectors in doing the same (recent examples include the not-for-profit Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme and superannuation fund Future Super). Crooks also claims that the number of inbound queries from firms looking to deploy period leave has increased dramatically.

Lucy, a 28-year-old Melbourne communications manager, saw firsthand the benefits of these policies after joining a company that offered menstruation leave in May 2021. Lucy has taken advantage of the policy a few times on her first day of menstruation, when she gets "really awful cramps," which, along with waves of weariness and bouts of sadness, may make "attention impossible."

Her employer's plan, she claims, has created a culture of "trust and good faith" by providing flexible working arrangements and 12 extra days of paid period leave each year. This belief – "that you are the expert on your own body, needs, and life" - motivates her to rest and recover when she needs to.

Menstrual leave has also inspired Lucy to work more when she's on the clock, and she's more inclined to promote her job to others. Lucy now feels "truly respected," she adds, not just as a pair of arms and legs there to work, but as a whole person, unlike in previous employment when she felt pressured to keep going.

Employers claim that implementing menstruation leave has benefited them. Since providing 10 days of paid period leave for her employees in May last year, Kristy Chong, the CEO of Modibodi, a period-underwear company based in Balmain, Australia, has had no regrets. She claims that trust between managers and employees has grown, that employees appear to be more productive than before, and that the perk has helped Modibodi become a more appealing place to work.

By supporting women with these rules, you inspire them to want to be at work and put their best foot forward, she says.

Women are empowered to want to work and put their best foot forward when rules like these are in place. Chong, Kristy

However, detractors of menstrual leave rules frequently highlight employer costs incurred while paying employees on leave as reasons to reject them. However, Marian Baird, a professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney Business School, believes that businesses will be rewarded handsomely for implementing a policy. Women's productivity rises, their commitment and loyalty grow, and the firm benefits.

According to Crooks, the Victorian Women's Trust's financial hardships were well worth it. In the five years since she began offering menstruation leave, staff members have taken an average of six days every year. The Trust's aim is to empower women, but she believes there's a benefit to doing so: firms who make greater workplace accommodations for women will stand out from those who don't.

The Complications

Despite the growing popularity of menstrual leave, these rules remain confusing and have their detractors. Some opponents are concerned that modern incarnations of period leave, which are intended to eradicate menstruation taboos and improve employee experience, would impede gender equality in the workplace by treating employees who menstruate differently than those who do not.

Women's bodies being essentialized "may foster damaging beliefs that [they] are less worthy or reliable employees," according to Golding, or that they are unable to work when menstruating, which is far from ubiquitous. Melissa Dobman, an organisational psychologist and author of Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work, is also concerned that discussing menstrual symptoms at work may be perceived as overly "emotional," even though "vulnerability is actually a positive thing for a leader" to show.

Furthermore, even if menstrual-leave policies are in place, workers must believe they are in a culturally acceptable enough setting to take advantage of them, according to Golding, who cites historical examples of poor acceptance, such as in Japan. Even those who are covered may resist taking time off because of the "shame and stigma" connected with it, or the fear that it may hinder their careers - unless they believe their bosses are truly supportive. According to Baird, this entails firm executives, particularly those in male-dominated industries, "signalling via word and behaviour" that the policies are in place and should be followed, as well as employees like Lucy, who have taken time off, speaking publicly about female experiences.

The increase in remote work may also determine how willing or unwilling a worker is up to take up this policy – even in an environment where they feel supported. "Rather than taking a day's leave and risking having to report their predicament to higher-ups," Golding continues, women may "opt to 'push through' and continue working from home."

While these rules may benefit those who want to use them, corporate privileges such as paid menstruation leave or the opportunity to work from home are not available to all employees. Service workers who work long shifts and stand for long periods of time are forced to pick between a day off and a paycheck. "A right to paid menstruation leave, legislated under a broadly applicable statute, would mean that women from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds would be allowed the chance to take leave," Golding says.

Life would have been different

Despite the challenges of menstrual leave, Baird believes that if businesses do not accommodate workers with periods, those with particularly debilitating symptoms may be forced to leave the workforce entirely.

Employees going through menopause, for example, are at a higher risk of abandoning their jobs, according to a Standard Chartered Bank report from 2021. According to the study, 25% of the 2,400 participants stated their symptoms, along with a lack of understanding and support from their bosses and coworkers, made them more likely to quit. Another 22% indicated the same considerations influenced their decision to retire completely.

Despite the difficulties of menstrual leave, Baird believes that if employers do not accommodate workers who have periods, some who have very debilitating symptoms may be pushed to leave the profession entirely.

According to a Standard Chartered Bank analysis from 2021, employees going through menopause, for example, are more likely to leave their jobs. According to the study, 25% of the 2,400 participants said their symptoms, along with a lack of understanding and support from their supervisors and coworkers, caused them to quit. Another 22% said the same factors impacted their choice to completely retire. This is especially true because millennial and Gen Z workers with periods are more outspoken than their forefathers, and firms facing labour shortages are eager to "provide policies that can attract and keep clever, young female workers," she says.

Caldwell, like Jessie, can't help but fantasise about a world where she has access to paid menstruation leave at work. "I think I would've learnt to take care of myself a lot sooner and that I didn't have to deny myself," she adds. It might have changed the way I thought about myself. It would have been a very different life for me.

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