What has long been customary in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia is now also being adopted in Europe – the so-called menstrual leave. Two weeks ago, Spain presented a draft law that would make sick leave easier for people with severe menstrual cramps.
Menstruation: a taboo topic that costs companies billions
Ana-Sophia Almeida-Dehesa supports this development. As a co-founder of «Vision Period», for the last two years, she has been dealing with how companies can make everyday work more cycle-oriented for employees. The prospective doctor and entrepreneur says: “In recent years, companies have done a lot to ensure that employees are happy at work and stay healthy. The offers range from yoga classes to nutritional advice, but the topic of the menstrual cycle is still given too little attention.”
For Almeida-Dehesa, this is one reason why many menstruating people do not feel comfortable in the workplace. A survey from the Netherlands with over 30,000 participants shows that 80 percent of those surveyed would rather drag themselves to work during their menstrual period than openly communicate their need for retreat and rest. In addition, every tenth woman suffers from endometriosis, which causes severe menstrual pain. The pain and discomfort make menstruating people less able to work effectively.
A survey from the Netherlands with over 30,000 participants shows that 80 percent of those surveyed would rather drag themselves to work during their menstrual period than openly communicate their need for retreat and rest.
A study by Kearney calculates that not addressing the issue of menstruation and the resulting loss of productivity costs companies in the EU 100 billion euros a year.
Cycle formation should bring about rethinking
This is where the start-up Vision Period comes into play. Almeida-Dehesa and her team offer workshops for companies to raise awareness of the female cycle. She says: "I am convinced that we can only do a good job if we know our needs and do not go beyond our limits." That is why it is important in the first step that employees are informed about the cycle. «In our workshops, we find time and again that many women only deal with their menstrual cycle when it comes to having children. That's a shame because there's also a superpower in the cycle."
Almeida-Dehesa explains that the female cycle should not only be reduced to menstruation, but to the entire 28 to 32 days. “There are also phases in the cycle when women can work much more productively and appear more self-confident. Feeling these phases can be a real game-changer for those affected,” she says.
Communicate needs instead of hiding them
Not only menstruating people take part in the Vision Period workshops, but the whole team. This is important in order to break up the taboo topic of cycles and menstruation so that employees can learn to speak openly and naturally about their needs. The entrepreneur says: "Today's working world with its working hours and breaks is tailored to the hormonal cycle of men, which lasts 24 hours. Not only women suffer from this, but also men who have psychological problems, for example.”
Education on these topics is essential so measures can be developed to enable an inclusive and cycle-oriented working environment: “In the first step, companies can create a place to retreat at the workplace, for example. Another option is home office days and flexible working days or days on which employees with menstrual problems are completely free from work.»
Menstrual leave fits into the old system
The discussion about menstruation in everyday work irritates Gudrun Sander. The director of the Competence Center for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of St. Gallen says: “For me, menstrual leave fits into the ideas of an outdated working world with rigid work structures, attendance times, and hierarchies. Menstrual leave sounds so progressive – but it's actually retro!»
From Sander's point of view, it should generally be questioned whether the current working models are still up to date: "Today's working world is made for full-time breadwinner men. For many employees, this system does not fit. Instead of developing special solutions for those who don't fit in, we should design working models that serve as many as possible.»
All people need understanding
From Sander's point of view, the discussion about menstruation in everyday working life has another catch: "We are using this narrative of the biology-controlled woman. We have to ask ourselves who this discourse actually serves." According to Sander, there is a risk that such discussions about a cycle-oriented working day will revive the image of the deficient woman who is not efficient and cannot assume positions of responsibility.
Above all, Sander would like to see corporate cultures that show understanding for everyone: “Everyone needs understanding. From my point of view, it is irrelevant whether we need understanding because of menstruation or because of a sleepless night because of sick children at home."
A culture of trust and flexible working models
Sander, therefore, considers rigid working and attendance times to be outdated, regardless of menstruation. Since the corona pandemic, she has already observed a change in many companies that are bringing about more flexibility for employees. "But this, in turn, means that we also have to rethink leadership, because flexibility means more effort and, above all, a need for more trust," says the expert.
It is important that companies find a middle ground. “Flexibility must not lead to unproductivity. For example, team days when all employees are on-site can facilitate task sharing and handovers," says Sander. Overall, however, from her point of view, the advantages of flexible working models not only for employees but also for companies outweigh the disadvantages: “If employees can better allocate their own resources, they are more productive. In addition, it will be difficult for companies that stick to rigid working hours to attract young talent in the future.» Various studies confirm that young people of Generation Z strive for more individuality and flexibility.