Written by Rebeca Hopper
It is safe to say that Covid has been revolutionary for the world of work. Before the pandemic, a whopping 68% of British employees had never worked from home. Fast forward eighteen months and ‘hybrid work’ now seems to be the buzzword on everybody’s lips. Whilst many offices are reopening this month, some firms are continuing to offer flexible work-from-home options for their employees. Great news for those of you dreading the commute or eager to keep up your lunchtime jog! For those suffering from severe period pain (dysmenorrhea) or endometriosis, the shift to flexible work is, however, more than a question of convenience. It can offer much-needed relief for the time around your period.
Benefits of WFH on your period.
Goodbye workwear, hello comfy attire, elasticated waistbands (or maybe even Pyjamas!).
Painful periods bring with them a whole lot more than abdominal cramps. They are associated with a plethora of secondary symptoms, including back pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and even fainting. It is no wonder that as many as 80% have reported lost productivity at work due to menstruation-related symptoms. Sitting rigidly in an office chair, bloated stomach squeezed into a pair of fitted trousers (or God forbid tights), is hardly going to help matters.
This is where working from home on your period can pay dividends. Flare-ups of pain are often better managed when sufferers are not slumped over their desk in the office, feeling like death warmed up. Instead, the possibility to work remotely, laptop to hand, from a sofa or bed, can offer tremendous comfort. Preparing a hot water bottle at home no longer means the awkward shuffle to the office kitchen; you may as well have a signpost: YES, I AM ON MY PERIOD!
Sufferers can massage their abdomen, or even try some gentle yoga positions, without raising eyebrows in the office. For those prescribed painkillers such as mefenamic acid or naproxen, both of which need to be taken with food, the snack cupboard is just around the corner (hooray, no-one can judge your 10am sandwich anymore!).
Pain management also means a LOT less stress and anxiety, two foes which tend to raise their ugly heads around this time of the month anyway. Endometriosis UK recommends reducing stress and trying relaxation techniques for those struggling with menstruation pain. Time saved on the commute (and office distractions) can therefore go towards breathing exercises, or even a gentle stroll around the neighborhood.
Comfort, a lack of external judgement, and greater autonomy can all help sufferers feel more in control of their symptoms, a vital weapon in the arsenal against period-related stress. At work, many are plagued by fears of bleeding through during the working day, or having to duck sheepishly out of meetings, tampon up sleeve. Not to mention the commute to work which brings a whole other heap of challenges; cramped public transport, standing for long periods of time, and the stresses of the early-morning dash can exacerbate feelings of nausea, light-heatedness, and abdominal pain… not to mention that sinking feeling when you know your tampon or pad NEEDS to be changed.
Recent findings have even shown a positive correlation between emotional stress and dysmenorrhea. Work-from-home comforts are more than just pandering to the monthlies, it would therefore seem. Ultimately, they can provide concrete ways to alleviate pain and reduce associated anxieties, which can in turn help productivity. (Provided you are beyond the days of home-schooling, that is…)
So...should women get Menstrual leave in the U.K.?
Menstrual leave does not yet exist in the UK. However, hybrid work does. It offers an understated solution to the age-old problem of menstruation pain; sufferers have the choice where to manage their symptoms without having to justify themselves.
The normalization of hybrid work for both sexes also dodges the contentious issue of menstrual leave, which can be quite the pickle for employer and employee alike. Already implemented in the likes of Japan, Taiwan, and Zambia, the policy offers an individual the right to take paid or unpaid leave if they feel unable to attend work during menstruation. Surely a victory for endometriosis and dysmenorrhea sufferers? Not quite as simple as that, I’m afraid. Menstrual leave can lead to stigmatization and discrimination in the workplace, with some fearing it reinforces the stereotype of ‘female fragility and unproductivity’. What’s more, pain is inherently subjective. My version of severe period pain may not correspond to yours, so it is hard to implement a fair baseline policy. What exactly does ‘unable to work’ mean? If it means being unable to work comfortably at a desk, unable to stomach the commute, unable to implement pain management techniques, does this really mean you are unable to work? Or simply unable to work in the office?
Offices are reopening, and for those of you who swear by the anti-stress effects of office camaraderie, the sorely missed tea breaks with colleagues, or just the chance to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, go out and live your best working life! Hybrid work at least now offers the flexibility some of us need to take care of ourselves. Work-from-home is by no means a universal right (spare a thought for teachers, those in hospitality and retail, as well as health and care workers), but nor is it a thing of the past. At the end of the day, only you can decide where you are happier and healthier. If we are lucky enough to have the choice of WFH, and we suffer with period pain, we now have options. Now where are the biscuits?