Sometimes it really feels like European companies are just showing off. In a time when American workers are lucky to get a few days of paid sick leave, one employer in the U.K. is offering a “period policy” that allows female workers to stay home during menstruation – without using up sick days. The idea is to improve productivity by “synchronizing work with the natural cycles of the body,” says Bex Baxter, director of Coexist, the Bristol-based company.
(Photo Credit: Molly Porter/Unsplash)
Coexist is a small company that manages Hamilton House, a community and arts space. It’s heavily female dominated, with 24 women out of a 31-person staff.
“I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods,” Baxter tells The Guardian. “Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair. At Coexist we are very understanding. If someone is in pain – no matter what kind – they are encouraged to go home. But, for us, we wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body’s natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness.”
Baxter says that it’s not just about giving women time off when they’re experiencing pain, but “about empowering people to be their optimum selves. If you work with your natural rhythms, your creativity and intelligence is more fulfilled. And that’s got to be good for business.”
She and her staff are also running a seminar, called Pioneering Policy: Valuing Natural Cycles in the Workplace, to encourage other organizations to adopt similar policies.
So, Is It Good for Business?
First off, we obviously don’t have enough data to make a sweeping determination about whether policies like this would help or hurt companies or individual women working for those companies. But we can examine some potential pros and cons:
- Regardless of whether you believe that women specifically or people in general have productivity cycles determined by hormones, more time off is probably a good thing in our go-go-go culture. Research shows that workers in countries with more vacation time are actually more productive, not less.
- Three-quarters of women experience pain during their periods, and 10 percent have pain that’s so severe, they can’t carry out the activities of daily life for at least one day per month. If women use sick time to deal with it, they might use up all their days before they even get to flu season.
- Special leave for women, even if it’s not exactly a vacation, is sexist. Should men have to work more days, just because they don’t have periods? What about women who don’t menstruate?
- For many people, the idea of the boss knowing private health information like when their period arrives each month is frankly horrifying. It’s bad enough that some organizations demand a doctor’s note for a few days out with the flu. We don’t need to volunteer more health information to our employers. And what if you’re trying to conceive? Do you keep taking period leave during the first trimester, so the boss doesn’t figure out what’s up?
- Could this ultimately be used against women who take leave? A policy is only as good as the people enforcing it. What starts out as a recognition of need for downtime might become evidence of lack of dedication. All it takes is a regime change at the executive level.
Bottom line, the biggest value of this policy for those of us who don’t work at Coexist is that it’s making us talk about the fact that many companies, especially in the U.S., have pretty insufficient leave policies.
Ideally, employers should provide enough leave to allow workers to determine when they need time off, whether it’s to deal with a painful period or the flu or to take a mental health day or to go to the Bahamas – and then trust their employees to be responsible enough to use that time off in a way that makes them better workers, as well as happier people.
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