Getting time off from work during your period might sound radical — but it’s not such a new idea. In some countries, it’s been common practice for decades.
30 to 40% of all people who have a period suffer from severe pain and other symptoms every month. Several studies show that menstrual cramps are responsible for an average of nine days of lost productivity per year.
Japan cottoned on to this a long time ago: it was the first country to include period leave in its labour law — in 1947. Any woman having painful periods or doing work that could aggravate period pain was allowed to take seirikyuuka (meaning 'physical leave'). Others have since followed, including Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Italy (although only for women who deal with dysmenorrhea, a heavy pain in the pelvis or abdomen).
Companies are now joining in. Indian food delivery app Zomato introduced period leave in 2020, and we followed shortly afterwards, introducing 10 days of paid period leave per year at Bitwala.
Period leave fosters inclusiveness by accepting that there are biological differences in the workplace. Women in our company have told us the policy is helpful because it acknowledges that menstrual pain and other symptoms like migraines are real — and removes the pressure to perform for those suffering from them. When interviewing new talent, we also receive a lot of positive feedback about the initiative.
If you’d like your company to join the movement, here’s what helped me bring the idea to life at Bitwala.
Do your research and share data
Periods are still a taboo — and it’s through speaking openly about them that they will become normalised.
Use suitable Slack channels, company all-hands or internal newsletters to share knowledge about the impact of the period on work life and the positive effect period leave can have on your employees’ wellbeing and productivity. This will help build understanding and acceptance on the need for a change in policy.
Check in with the men at your company too; see if they struggle with anything physically or mentally. When working inclusively, it’s important to include all groups.
Set up a process that’s comfortable for everyone
When the idea of period leave was presented to our C-level at Bitwala, two questions were asked: ‘How can we ensure that women will take their leave, and how do we manage this operationally?’ It’s important to develop a straightforward process for taking period leave. I’d recommend that employees have the choice to submit period leave either to their direct supervisors, or via the people team. This gives them the option to ask the person they are most comfortable with.
Find senior leadership support
After C-level team approval, I identified two sponsors among them who would help me to introduce period leave to mid management and the whole company. It was important for me that this was not seen as ‘another HR idea’.
It was important for me that this was not seen as ‘another HR idea’.
While our C-level was very openminded and understanding, I knew that our mid management team might push back more. We also expected to hear from male employees that ‘men also deserve a mental health day’. Having sponsors of different genders can help promote the need for and acceptance of period leave.
Share the news
When implementing a new benefit, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the what, the why and the how. Period leave needs to be transparent and understood across the whole organisation, not just among women.
We carried out the communication in three steps:
1. Presented the new benefit during a leadership offsite
2. Presented period leave to all employees in our all-hands day, explaining the reasons behind implementing it and the process to take period leave
3. We communicated the process with all women once more to give them a chance to ask questions they might not want to ask in front of the whole company.
I expected to have long discussions with leaders and several men, but in reality they all quickly understood the policy’s importance. Our mission is to acknowledge the real impact of periods, not to discriminate against men, or make women look weaker. Overall, the feedback from all team members was very positive.
Breaking taboos can only be done by speaking up and making an awkward topic a normal conversation. This was the first of many, and we’re continuing to learn, reflect and improve on how we can do better for our people.