Tips for talking to your boss about menstruation

Having a conversation about menstruation at work can be daunting but can also be extremely helpful.

HOPE Tip for talking to boss

Society has not quite got it right for people who are menstruating and you may want/need to have a conversation about how things could be adapted so that you can excel in the environment you find yourself in. This can be daunting. We have come up with a few tips that may smooth such conversations:

  1. Be prepared. Make sure you have clear facts to state your case. It is much more effective to have facts and figures, rather than vague statements. Be specific and direct. For example, it may be better to say “I have had to take 5 days off in the last 6 months due to menstruation” rather than “I’ve struggled with my periods”. Equally “there are no female toilets on the ground floor, meaning I have to go up two flights of stairs every 1-2 hours when I’m menstruating” is more powerful than “I can’t come to work when I’ve got my period”. Plan what you want to say and make sure you can back it up with evidence.
  2. Find the right setting. It is very difficult to have personal conversations in a public place. Make sure you arrange the meeting in a space where you feel comfortable. It is worth considering if you would like to have a witness present.
  3. Be positive and minimise emotions. Both of these are very difficult to achieve. However, your issues and concerns are way more likely to be listened to if you start in a positive tone, e.g. “I love my job and want to do it to the best of my ability. I have a few issues that I hope you can help me with….” It is not the end of the world if you cry, you can take some time to collect yourself and finish the conversation. However, it is certainly not a good career move if you end up screaming at your boss. Practice the conversation and try to keep control of your own emotions.
  4. Offer solutions. It is very easy to present all the problems that you have encountered, but it is much more constructive to offer solutions at the same time. “I’m finding it difficult to be as productive as I would like to be when I’m menstruating. I’ve been thinking about solutions to this and wondered if it would be an option for me to work from home 2-3 days per month/have flexibility with my meeting timetabling for these 2-3 days/other solution that would work for you and your job”
  5. Allow your boss to ask questions and listen to their point of view. It can be daunting to talk about complex health issues. A good boss will use it as an opportunity to learn and accommodate staff needs. You do not have to answer any personal questions but creating a two way dialogue will be beneficial when finding solutions. There is often lots of pressure placed on managers to deliver goals, you will have to be mindful of their agenda and work together to create solutions that will benefit the whole team.

Ultimately, it is up to you whether you start this conversation or not. Many people would rather say they have a headache than admit they have menstrual problems – and that is fine. We hope that society is changing and will soon allow everyone to be open about menstrual health. That day has not yet arrived. Perhaps the tips above will give you the confidence to start a conversation, but different people have very different lives and it may not be appropriate for you – yet.

If you’re struggling to work because of debilitating menstrual symptoms you should speak to your GP.