CHIEF OF STAFF FIVE: Menstrual leave has gained increased attention recently, and more organisations around the world are starting to offer this specific paid time off to female employees. Is this needed in Southeast Asia also? And what are the potential benefits and costs to an organisation looking to offer it as part of their employee value proposition?
In this Chief of Staff Five, we consider five things to know about menstrual leave and the campaign around it.
1. What is menstrual leave?
Menstrual leave allows female employees to take either paid or unpaid time off from work during their menstrual cycle. This ranges from one to five days per month, depending on the necessity and level of support offered by employers.
Advocates argue that this represents an important further step towards gender equality, as it recognises the unique challenges that women face during their menstrual cycles. By providing this leave, companies can support female employees’ well-being and productivity, and also reduce stigma around menstruation and its effects.
2. Where is menstrual leave offered?
Menstrual leave is offered in only a few countries by national policy, including Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Zambia. This year, Spain became the first country in Europe to also provide this leave option. But some companies globally also implement menstrual leave as their own initiative, even without legislation to specifically endorse it. Lately, it has become a hot topic in the Philippines, with some organisations already offering or proposing this policy.
It is important to note that enforcement is often poor in those labour markets where the legislation exists; whether because employers are not aware of the regulatory change, vague policy wording leaves many with options to get around or minimise the impact of the law, or there are widespread choices to flout the policy regardless.
3. How is menstrual leave different from sick leave?
Menstrual cramps, headaches, and other symptoms can be debilitating for many women, hindering them from focusing and being productive at work. Because of this, women, especially those who experience extreme menstrual pains, are forced to take standard sick leave when the symptoms are at their worst.
Having a menstrual leave policy in place will change that since it is specifically designed to address the unique challenges women experience on a regular basis.
4. What are the potential benefits of menstrual leave?
Aside from the benefits on women’s physical, mental, and emotional health, advocates of menstrual leave argue that it can help prevent stigma and shame around menstruation, further empowering women in the workplace.
It may also help reduce absenteeism and improve productivity, by allowing female employees to rest and recover during their cycle, and ensure that women are not forced to use their sick leave for menstrual-related concerns.
This can also boost job satisfaction and retention among women as it shows that employers care about the well-being of their female employees.
5. Are there downsides to menstrual leave?
Yes, critics, and even supporters are concerned that menstrual leave will inadvertently propagate discrimination in hiring and promotion of female employees. This is especially true when employers do not understand the rationale behind the policy or are unwilling to pay for additional leave.
Still, employers need to take into account the immediate and lasting advantages that menstrual leave can provide to female employees, allies, and the organisation as a whole in terms of employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention.