How to Make Sure You Transform Your Workplace to Support Women’s Health and Productivity

July 5, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-womenshealth

Approximately 26% of the global population menstruates, and we know that women’s physiology changes as hormones fluctuate throughout their cycle. These changes can affect everything from energy and mood to motivation and productivity.

Yet, many workplaces still lack policies to support women during their cycles. According to a report from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 79% of respondents have experienced menstruation symptoms. Around 15% have a menstrual condition such as endometriosis, PCOS, PMDD, or fibroids. Of those who have experienced symptoms, 69% say they have had a negative impact at work. More than half have had to miss work at some point because of their symptoms; for a small minority of 4% this happened every month.

Ignoring the issue of menstruation causes significant consequences for individuals and businesses. Thankfully, by increasing support and building awareness, it is possible to create a menstruation-friendly culture that will be a game-changer for women’s health and performance.

One approach that is gaining popularity is cycle syncing, which refers to the practice of adapting health and lifestyle habits to fit the four phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is commonly used in the sports world, where female athletes adjust their training to leverage how their bodies respond to stress according to hormonal fluctuations. It is also gaining traction among female CEOs who harness the power of their hormones by planning tasks and activities for when they are likely to be most efficient, productive, and creative. The overriding message is one of empowerment. By advocating for supportive policies in the workplace, companies can enable women to work with their cycles, not against them.

Implementing changes

Firstly, it is a good idea to review your existing policies to assess whether menstrual health is being effectively addressed. Current policies could be unfairly disadvantageous to women who struggle with symptoms and may require time off.

Menstrual leave has been offered to female employees in countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia for many years, and it is becoming more common elsewhere. Studies show that implementing menstrual cycle leave has multiple benefits:

  • Reducing absenteeism due to severe menstrual symptoms
  • Improving overall productivity by allowing women to rest when needed
  • Promoting a supportive and understanding workplace culture
  • Encouraging women to openly discuss their health without fear of stigma

Other positive practices to consider include paid sick leave, paid time off for medical appointments, flexible hours and work-from-home options, and providing free period products.

With any culture change, it is essential that all employees feel involved. If staff do not know why something is being done, it will be difficult to get their buy-in from the start. Awareness and education programmes can be extremely beneficial so people know what kind of symptoms their co-workers might be experiencing and how they can help accommodate them.

The CIPD found that women are much more likely to feel supported by colleagues than by their employer or manager (41% compared with 21% and 26%, respectively), showing that there may be an empathy gap at the top. Therefore, line managers and HR managers should receive appropriate training so that they are better equipped to support staff.

Open communication is also crucial. Addressing the subject openly will help people feel more confident and comfortable talking about it, breaking down the stigma. Often, it is not that someone does not want to be sympathetic, they could be scared to say the wrong thing or feel unprepared to discuss it.

Develop a documented support framework to share with the team so that everyone is aware of what measures are being taken and what role they play. Start with a statement of intent, outline the aim of the policy, assign responsibilities, and provide a clear communications pathway with points of contact to discuss any concerns.

It is also important to remember that every woman is different. Ask questions, listen carefully, and be prepared to tailor any support. In an age where prioritising employee wellbeing should be non-negotiable, establishing a period-friendly workplace encourages colleagues to support each other, helping everyone perform at their best and get the understanding they deserve in an equitable environment.

Sharon James

Female Health Coach & Corporate Educator

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