Our period policy: why it’s essential for a progressive workplace and how we created it

Periods make life at work harder for millions of people, yet they’re still surrounded by silence and stigma – and that only compounds the problem. Inspired by Bloody Good Period, an inspirational non-profit we’ve partnered with in the past, we’ve developed a period policy to support people in our team. Here’s how…

The facts about menstruation at work

A lack of knowledge and understanding has created a culture of secrecy around menstruation at work. This makes working life tougher than it needs to be for people who have periods.

A survey by Bloody Good Period reveals that 89% of people who menstruate have experienced stress or anxiety at work because of their period. Moreover, over a quarter of people feel they’re never supported by their manager when they experience period pain.

Bloody Good Period works to reduce the stigma around menstruation and provide menstrual products for those who can’t afford them. Inspired by their mission to end menstrual inequality at work, we reflected on what we could do to make Forward Action a more period-friendly place.

Why have a policy for periods?

Having an effective period policy isn’t only about inclusivity and putting progressive values into practice.

People who menstruate perform better when they feel supported at work and are comfortable speaking about how periods affect them. So, employers who implement a successful period policy are likely to see better employee retention, improved working relations and increased productivity.

Although using sick leave to take time off is already an option for people experiencing period pain, the stigma surrounding menstruation means that employees often feel unable to ask for it.

As a result, people who don’t have periods often don’t realise the severity of their teammates’ symptoms. This in turn means that people avoid speaking up about their pain because they don’t think it will be taken seriously by colleagues. In fact, one third of those surveyed felt it was unprofessional to speak about periods at work.

By having a specific policy, organisations can break the cycle of silence and raise awareness about periods across their entire workplace.

How we created our period policy

Without a formalised period policy, people’s experiences with period symptoms often rely on the personal attitude of their manager. So, Bloody Good Period say leaders need to be more proactive in supporting staff, and that increasing awareness about periods across an entire organisation is essential to ending the stigma around menstruation.

At Forward Action, the first step towards creating our period policy was to set up a steering committee spanning all levels of seniority. We then surveyed teammates who menstruate to understand how their period was impacting them and what they were looking for in a period policy.

Our findings were largely in line with Bloody Good Period’s: people were already taking time off for period pain, but were not always comfortable telling their manager why, or were afraid of being perceived as ‘making excuses’.

People also told us that the impact of periods isn’t just physical: it can affect mental health, attention span and energy levels too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, meeting-heavy days presented the biggest challenge.

The elements of the new period policy that were most important to our team were:

  1. Normalise talking about periods
  2. Create a policy for everyone
  3. Recognise a desire for discretion
  4. Explore a flexible ‘period leave’ option

Equipped with these insights, we developed Forward Action’s period policy, with the joint aims of supporting staff through period pain and creating an inclusive workplace where periods can be discussed openly.

What our period policy looks like

Our period policy supports people who menstruate and encourages open communication around periods in the following ways:

  1. Those suffering period pain can take one day off each month as period leave, with no requirement to tell their manager why.
  2. Allowing for flexibility in working arrangements, for example by encouraging people to block out time in their calendar to reduce meetings on days that they have their period.
  3. Ensuring that people feel supported and able to speak about their periods if they want to.
  4. Making our office a period-inclusive place by providing menstrual products, hot water bottles and chocolate free of charge.

Finally, when we launched the period policy we made sure our whole team was there. After all, it takes all of us – both those who menstruate and those who don’t – to break the cycle of silence around periods.

The policy is still in its early days, but it’s an important step in combating period-based inequality at work. If every organisation made an effort to tackle the stigma surrounding periods, we could make work more inclusive, equitable, and compassionate for everyone.