In need of maturity

Addressing menstruation-related needs in the workplace in an effective manner requires thorough education at earlier stages.

Employers are only starting to recognise the impact of menstruation and trying to incorporate the related needs of women into their policies. How do you talk about menstruation in a professional environment, an organisation, or a company? Is the topic of menstruation sensitive, controversial, or private?

It seems the topic is still ‘sensitive’ in Poland and we do not really know how to have a normal conversation about it. At times, we even seem to be missing the right words: should you say ‘menses’, ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’? And if a menstrual pad or a tampon falls out of someone’s bag, everyone is in panic or pretends not to have seen anything. This is likely to stem from education – or rather the lack thereof, making integration of the topic into the workplace difficult at times. Some people cannot even imagine talking about ‘women’s whims’.

Nobody, however, can question the fact that this is a natural thing, and women know from their lived experience it can sometimes be a very difficult time, accompanied by decreased efficiency because women can simply feel very unwell. An employee is a human being who brings their entire being into the organisation. This also applies to menstruation. You cannot leave it at home and tell it to wait until you finish work and come back home.

Yet, I don’t think it is a controversial topic, and I’m glad we are addressing it in the workplace. I believe the topic of menstruation should be demystified and provided with pure facts. For me, demystifying means to handle the topic in a mature manner, seek for solutions in teams, without banter or jokes about ‘those days’ that are often humiliating.

Workplaces where the health and well-being of employees is a value that is not only declared but is lived, and where managers have high emotional intelligence, will find it easier to familiarise people with the topic and embed it into conversations about efficiency and productivity. This will not be a problem in teams and organisations characterised by trust and a high level of employee-self management because the team that has a share of management responsibility can find solutions such as flexible working time or working from home, etc. Organisations built around patriarchal values will face difficulties in communicating about menstruation, or being sensitive to women’s needs.

What does a company benefit from an open approach to menstruation? Does it have an impact on the well-being of employees? Does it build trust? How can this influence the actions/effectiveness of teams?

There are many benefits to be expected in organisations that have a serious and holistic approach to human performance. I think an open approach to the topic of menstruation, demystification of the subject, and sensitivity to the needs of women will foster a higher sense of security in the workplace. Remember that the need for security is a basic human need. A safe and friendly workplace can translate into greater employee loyalty and commitment to work, in line with the principle of reciprocity: ‘I need to rest today and my company is okay with it, so I can make up for it tomorrow or the day after.’ Safe working conditions, open conversation with the team or the line manager, based on trust, enhances good relations that work like social capital in the workplace and reflect in the efficiency of the entire team. Obviously, the context matters too: the maturity of your team, a high level of responsibility and interdependence of every team member, a supportive organisational culture, and an empathetic and collaborative management style.

The conversation may touch upon such practical measures as access to menstrual leave or ensuring access to menstrual products in restrooms in the same way there is access to toilet paper. But how do we implement such changes effectively? Which actions, including those in the area of communication, can foster normalisation of the topic of menstruation in the workplace?

Recently there have been quite a few campaigns in the social domain aimed at mainstreaming the topic of menstruation. Many restaurants, cafes, and other workplaces made free menstrual products available in restrooms, and the ‘Pink Box’ Foundation’s campaign, which improved the availability of pads, tampons and other hygiene products primarily in schools, has been gaining momentum. The fact that the products appeared in the open public space is a nice step towards having a normal conversation about the topic and not see menstruation as a taboo. Moreover, it contributes to education and raising awareness of, for example, environmental issues related to menstruation. It bears mentioning that menstrual leave is not a new idea. For instance, it has been available for many years in Japan, at least in theory.

However, when it comes to the business context, it is a complex topic that has to be approached from many perspectives and may not spark enthusiasm in everyone. Still, we should not forget that menstruation is not a choice – it is physiology that affects more than a half of the population. It may therefore seem you shouldn’t consider such a leave a perk or benefit but rather something that equalises opportunities. At the same time, there are different types of work, different organisations, different organisational cultures. One might be concerned that some employees would be reluctant to hire women, which would reduce their chances in the labour market. And that would not be good at all. Others advocate for those who regularly experience migraines and other ailments. You might also give examples of companies that benefited from the introduction of such solutions, building good workplaces that translated into greater efficiency.

I strongly believe the topic of menstruation primarily requires thorough education in order to lay the foundations for mature workplace conversations and for it to be associated with the effectiveness of female employees and the organisation as a whole.

Dr Katarzyna Kulig-Moskwa, head of the Human Resources Management Team at the Wrocław School of Banking (WSB).

Prepared by: AZ

The text was published at on 07 April 2022