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Periods are shit. And they're even worse when you have to go to work and make conversation with Joe from two desks down when you've got a pain in your uterus so blinding it could be—according to science—"almost as bad as a heart attack."
Admitting that to your boss, though, can be hard. Asking to go home sick because you're bleeding is awkward at best, a totally off-limits social taboo at worst. That's why a British company called Coexist announced last week that it would be introducing period leave to the women in their office. It's not a new thing—Japan has had period leave for more than 70 years, and Nike already offers women monthly menstrual leave.
But in these stringent economic times, what would actually happen if all working women were given time off to give their uterus some TLC once a month? Would the global economy collapse? The stock markets crash? Or would it—as the Sun columnist Karren Brady believes, just reduce women in the workplace again to the "weaker sex at the mercy of our monthly cycles"? We asked Dr. Hyun-Jung Lee, professor of employment relations and organizational behavior at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
VICE: What do you make of a workplace "period policy"?
Dr Lee: I'm originally from South Korea, where women have a right to have a day off per month if the pain of their period becomes unbearable. It makes a lot of sense there because they have a strict working environment. People show up to work from 8 AM, do 12-hour days, and traditionally many companies also ask that you work on a Saturday until midday. They need to be totally present in their jobs.
Do we actually need a period policy in the UK?
Well, not necessarily, because in this country there is already a lot of flexibility at work. A lot of people take sick days—my assistant is actually off today because she is unwell. That said, giving your workforce more flexibility about when and where they work has positive affects on the overall well-being of your staff. Obviously, you have to show up at work for a certain amount of time and you need to interact with your customers and colleagues, but at the same time, a lot of things you can do much better if you're at home with your laptop and not surrounded by people and unnecessary distractions.
So could a period policy make an office more productive?
Yes. For example, both the Virgin Group and Netflix have a policy of unlimited annual leave. It's unbelievable, I know, but a policy like this is an acknowledgment that if you treat workers as human beings, people will make more responsible decisions.
I asked the head of HR at Virgin how many days she takes off a year and she said not many. Because knowing that she can take the days off when she needs to is motivating and puts the importance of the work into perspective. No one wants to work in an environment where you feel there are people constantly monitoring you. The feeling that you are being watched only has negative effects on productivity.
But what about people who can't work from home? Would a menstruation leave policy be at all plausible?
I can see the challenge because with a period you can't really predict when it's going to start. Women's mensuration cycles are often irregular. So in that respect, it could cause unplanned distribution to the workforce. But if you are at work and suffering, the likelihood is that you will be unproductive regardless.
It is also a pain that can be contagious. If you are suffering, you are not really functioning, and people can see that you are not working, which can have a negative effect the morale of other employees.
What would be the economic impact of all women being able to take time off when they are on their period, then?
One day a month, not showing up the the office wouldn't make a financial impact, in my view. On paper, if you look at the policy, you might think that because a substantial amount of the workforce could be taking an extra day's leave once a month, that could cost the business a lot—but that is only the economic based model. If you take into account the positive effects such a policy would have on work-life well-being, happiness, and productivity, it doesn't really matter.
Should more businesses be implementing a period policy?
Yes, but businesses have to be aware that the way you implement such a policy is the most important thing. Senior members of staff would need to be very clear that this is a positive policy that will most likely create a flexible working environment, where all employees have more respect for the work they are doing.
I say this because this is a sensitive policy. In South Korea, the reality is a lot of women don't take these days off because it's still very embarrassing to declare that you are on your period. Women still have to compete with men in the workplace, so it would seem undesirable for many women to take an extra day off and in some way demonstrate that your private life is more important than your work.
How likely is it that a policy such as this would be implemented across the UK?
I think that this is a very revolutionary idea that would take a long time to implement in British working culture. There is also the issue of gender equality, as the policy only affects females. What would it mean for how women are seen in the workplace? A lot of trade unions would have an issue with this and would take a long time to deliberate.
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