What time did you get into work today? In a standard office workday in modern western society, employees may arrive at work at eight or nine AM, and spend eight hours working toward their employer’s goals before punching out at five PM and heading home to relax and recharge. This classical daily routine is particularly suited to 24-hour cycles in which the employees get to approach every morning with a fresh start, ready to take on the challenges of the day.
Most men operate on a linear 24-hour hormonal cycle, during which they experience higher levels of testosterone in the morning and lower levels in the night as they wind down and sleep. This helps them achieve synchronicity with the standard workday. But what if not all bodies follow 24-hour cycles? What if a morning doesn’t always mean a fresh start?
This is the reality for approximately half the population. Women and people with menstrual cycles operate on highly variable hormonal cycles, ranging from 21-35 days, which often puts them at odds with the standard office working schedule, and the effects of this on productivity and overall wellbeing are considerable.
Time to Sync Up: Optimising Work According to the Menstrual Cycle
Menstruation-related symptoms cause decreased productivity an average of 23 days per year. The reason for this isn’t because women and people with cycles are less productive individuals, but because the standard workday schedule might not be optimised for menstruating people. Studies have shown that increased sensitivity and awareness around menstrual health in the workplace can have huge benefits for employees and employers alike.
The menstrual cycle is comprised of four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. We know that certain tasks and activities are easier to perform effectively at different menstrual phases. For example, during the late follicular phase leading up to ovulation, many women and people with cycles may experience higher levels of productivity and focus due to increased estrogen levels. If big presentations and networking can be scheduled at the same time as ovulation, which occurs around halfway through the menstrual cycle, they could be performed with less effort and more fulfilment. During the luteal phase, solo tasks and reflective exercises can come more naturally. If women and people with cycles can tap into these different phases and align their individual schedules with their menstrual cycles, we should expect to see a decrease in days lost to menstrual-related absenteeism and presenteeism at work.
From short-term impacts like improving employee happiness levels and daily productivity levels to longer-term benefits like increased employee retention, fostering a culture of trust, and lessening the gender gap, the potential for increased productivity and workplace morale is huge if companies are willing to take steps to empower women and people with cycles on the job.
5 Tips to Unlock the Power of the Menstrual Cycle in the Workplace:
Here are five actionable steps employers can take to create a supportive environment for women and people with cycles in the workplace and help them take advantage of the strengths their menstrual cycle can offer:
- Provide menstrual products: Make sure that menstrual products like pads and tampons are readily available in the workplace restrooms. Consider providing other products like menstrual cups, hot water bottles, or period panties to offer employees more options.
- Offer flexible work arrangements: Consider offering remote work or flexible schedules during menstrual periods to accommodate employees’ needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the popularity and possibility of remote working which has the potential to improve working conditions for women and people with cycles who may not be as productive according to the nine-to-five standard work week. It’s worth noting here that some researchers argue that offering menstruation leave allowances alone—without more comprehensive efforts to combat objectification, sexism, and other forms of gender discrimination in the workplace—can have detrimental effects on women and people with cycles.
- Educate employees: Provide education and resources on menstrual health and the importance of menstrual wellbeing to employees of all genders. This can include training for managers on how to support employees with menstrual symptoms and offering workshops or webinars on menstrual health. Creating a supportive culture that encourages open communication about menstrual health can help ensure that employees feel comfortable discussing menstrual symptoms and needs with their managers and colleagues.
- Offer employee benefit programs related to menstrual health: Such as the Essence App, which empowers women and people with cycles to optimise their productivity according to the menstrual cycle. Essence track periods and helps plan activities according to the menstrual cycle. Studies show that the implementation of menstrual health apps in the workplace has the potential to help employees distribute workloads around expected productivity loss, which will help improve overall productivity levels and reduce work days lost to menstruation-related absenteeism.
- Ensure workplace polices are inclusive: Employers can ensure that their workplace policies and practices are inclusive and supportive of all employees, regardless of gender. Employers can consult menstrual health experts to enact progressive and modern menstrual health policies for the company. By promoting inclusivity and gender equality, employers create a positive work culture that values all employees and supports their overall wellbeing.
Menstrual Health Awareness and the Future of Work
In light of the unprecedented changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces around the world are undergoing a transformation, with a shift towards flexible work arrangements and increased attention to employee wellbeing. In this rapidly evolving landscape, now is the perfect time to introduce menstrual health practices into your work environments to continue enhancing productivity and employee wellbeing.
If companies can understand the unique challenges that menstruating employees face and provide tailored support and accommodations, they can unlock untapped potential, leading to greater innovation, collaboration, and success. Implementing these measures not only benefit the wellbeing of menstruating employees but also work in harmony to promote a positive work environment and contribute to broader societal changes in attitudes towards menstrual health.
By breaking down stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation, companies can help create a more equal and just world where everyone is empowered to live and work to their fullest potential, not just those on a 24-hour hormonal cycle.
As the Head of Communications at Essence Labs, Hannah has a breadth of experience as a lawyer and researcher. Her work has taken her around the world to places such as: China to study dinosaur eggs in Zhejiang Province, the Netherlands to assist with genocide prosecution at the UN-ICTY, Germany to study data privacy regulations as a German Chancellor Fellow, and Serbia, where she completed a Fulbright grant. She is currently based in Germany, where she is focusing on gender equality and using law and policy to make the world safer.