Why menstrual leave is gaining popularity as a benefit

Women experience pain and uncomfortable symptoms with their periods. Menstrual leave allows them to take paid time off to rest and recover.
By Emma Atkinson      
Menstrual leave is gaining popularity

Women experience pain and uncomfortable symptoms with their periods. Menstrual leave allows them to take paid time off to rest and recover.

If you have a uterus, then you know how a period feels. Some months are better than others — maybe some light cramping and a little moodiness. Other months, though, can involve days of intense, sharp abdominal pain, back pain, headaches, digestive discomfort, mood swings and nausea, just to name a few common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, which affects most women.

Every 28 days or so, women (and other people with uteruses) get up and work through these symptoms — literally. Women go to their jobs while experiencing varying levels of period-related discomfort. A movement to allow women extra paid time off for their periods is gaining traction.

It’s called menstrual leave, and it’s already being implemented around the world. Several countries, like China and South Korea, have federalized menstrual leave policies, and Japan has had a menstrual leave policy in place since 1947.

In other places around the globe, giving women paid time off from work to deal with period symptoms is much less common. There are no countries in Europe with nationwide menstrual leave policies, and the United States lacks one as well. But things may be starting to change.

Menstrual leave as an employee benefit

Some companies are starting to offer a set number of paid days off to employees who menstruate as part of their benefits packages.

Two New Jersey-based companies, AtliQ Technologies and Binding Minds Inc., recently announced that they would offer 8 and 10 days of menstrual leave annually for female employees: https://www.linkedin.com/embed/feed/update/urn:li:share:6906858332284665856

Binding Minds portfolio manager Aman Koul writes, “The magic of the people management team is what can foster, drive, and cultivate a culture that is inclusive, fairer, and adaptive for all. Recently, Binding Minds Inc. introduced ten days ‘Menstrual Leaves’ for its women employees to create a more inclusive and accepting culture at the workplace.” https://www.linkedin.com/embed/feed/update/urn:li:share:6894294244295864321

Tech and media company Chani offers “unlimited menstrual leave for people with uteruses,” among other progressive, generous benefits like gender-based violence leave and a personal growth stipend.

Poland-headquartered gaming company GOG also announced a menstrual leave policy in which employees who menstruate can take off hours or days at a time for period-related symptoms. https://www.linkedin.com/embed/feed/update/urn:li:share:6915278132677627904

Gabriela Siemienkowicz, culture and communication manger at GOG, told Axios that the policy in its current form is experimental, with the potential for expansion later in 2022.

“It fosters inclusiveness by accepting that there are biological differences in the workplace,” she said in an interview. “By giving such additional days off, we acknowledge these symptoms are real.”

The upside of menstrual leave

As See Her Thrive notes, taking steps to recognize the painful and uncomfortable aspects of reproductive health can garner trust and boost productivity among your employees.

ModiBodi CEO Kristy Chong told BBC’s Worklife that implementing paid menstrual leave among her Australia-based workforce has produced positive results in productivity and her company’s brand perception.

“By supporting women with these policies, you empower them to actually want to be at work and to put their best forward,” Chong told Worklife.

Chong’s experience is backed by research: A 2019 study estimated that menstruation symptoms are linked to almost nine days’ worth of lost productivity every year.

“Menstruation-related symptoms cause a great deal of lost productivity, and presenteeism is a bigger contributor to this than absenteeism,” the researchers concluded. “Taking all the symptoms into account, it seems likely that the real impact of [menstruation related symptoms] is underestimated in the general population.”

The results of the study suggest that the ROI from allowing menstrual leave is more than adequate, pointing to a greater amount of lost productivity when women experiencing period symptoms came to work than when they took time off.

Despite the evidence, critics of menstrual leave raise issues about fueling sexist stereotypes.

Bex Baxter, who designed a menstrual leave policy for U.K. social enterprise Coexist in 2016, told Time Magazine that the policy received immense backlash — from women:

The ferocity of the debate shocked her. “The toxicity came from women, not the men,” [Baxter] says. “Women that were fearful that they had fought to be equal to men, not seen as weak, and didn’t want this drawing attention to a weakness within them and creating a stigma so that they couldn’t get promotions.”

It’s important to consider the complicated and often strong emotions tied to workplace communications about personal topics like menstruation.

Menstrual leave in action

Canada-based menstrual cup company DivaCup has offered 12 annual paid days of period leave, no questions asked, to employees since 2021.

“We’re encouraging people to not feel shame around it,” Diva founder and CEO Carinne Chambers-Saini told BNN Bloomberg. “Diva is a period positive company and our brand values are rooted in equity and body autonomy, so this fits into that mission and helps destigmatize menstruation.”

A blog post on the Diva website details how interested organizations can create menstrual leave policies of their own. Highlights include:

  • Getting buy-in from C-suite members by citing studies about the prevalence of painful period symptoms in women.
  • Drafting a simple, straightforward policy — Diva provides a template.
  • Implementing the program by educating employees and managers about the policy and menstruation in general.

Of course, the step that is crucial to putting in place a menstrual leave policy is C-suite buy-in. If your CEO isn’t comfortable with allotting more PTO to women, there are other ways to mitigate period stigma in the workplace.

See Her Thrive, a workplace consultancy focused on reproductive health, suggests taking steps like providing free period products, establishing anti-discrimination policies that focus on menstruation and educating your workforce about menstruation and reproductive health.