A story circulated last week on a BBC News page about a Bristol company who were going to introduce a “Period Policy” enabling women to work flexibly during their periods by taking time off and making up the time later.
This is the latest of a series of taboo subjects – much has been written recently about women and the menopause and the need for reasonable adjustments. Now, the world of HR and employment is embracing the “period” word and without question, this will massively divide opinion, particularly amongst women. For every woman saying what a wonderful breakthrough this is, no doubt there will be other women saying that there is nothing new about periods – they’ve been happening for thousands of years – a bit like the menopause but the only difference is that people now talk about it.
This Bristol Company says they are still working out the detail but how can such an arrangement be managed. The whole thing revolves around honesty and trust – does someone keep records a bit like people used to have holiday planers on the wall!
So what does flexible working mean in the context of this story? For some women, this could mean that they work from home but that then begs the question – how do you police whether they are in fact working from home because you can send e-mails from anywhere and pretty much on any device. Modern technology enables people to work flexibly but certain roles – for instance – Call Centres, Cleaners, Drivers – they can’t work from home.
The ability to “work from home” has the potential, in general, to actually mask your absenteeism rate because in many cases when someone wakes up and feels under the weather, they will ring in and say they’re not feeling too good so they’re working from home. For senior roles where they will be on Company sick pay, that’s fine and you work on trust but at what point does the whole situation become unmanageable. In some cases, absence is used as a criteria in Redundancy selection so it’s easier to say “working from home” than be marked down as a day of absence. Also, when you have no entitlement to sick pay, the ability to say “working from home” means you’ll get paid even though, in reality, all you do is log on and deal with a few e-mails. The Bradford Factor didn’t have to cope with all this when it was developed.
The Bristol Company is also saying that they may let women take time off and make the time up later. How does that work – some Companies are driven entirely around their customer base and if you’re in a tele-sales role, you may not be able to make calls if you make up the time by working later. And is someone going to say they will waive their entitlement to 2 days holiday in lieu of the 2 days they didn’t work last week because they were having a period.
Such an arrangement will work as long as there is trust but whatever you introduce, there will always be a small minority who will look to abuse the system and turn it to their advantage. Also such arrangements may work well in massive organisations where there is adequate cover in place and built into the resourcing levels, but spare a thought for the smaller business where cover will always be an issue.
Returning to the idea that this whole story will divide women of different generations. The opportunity now exists to request flexible working when you return after having a baby with either reduced days/hours or work from home days (how can you work from home when you’ve got to look after a toddler), then you move to flexible working during a period and then finally, flexible working when you hit the menopause.
There will be a generation of women who will find the whole thing bizzare and wondering if this is really happening – including Amanda Platell who found the whole thing worthy of ridicule writing in the Daily Mail.
In the meantime, this story will gather momentum and no doubt, HR people will be rushing to develop their Company’s Period Policy. Very best of luck but just remember the devil is in the details.