What that story about menstrual leave teaches us about flexible working

flexible working womanThere’s nothing that makes you yearn more for the end of humanity quite like the comments section on a website. There is such a direct correlation between your zeal for the apocalypse and the amount you expose yourself to the fetid bullshit that seeps from some people’s heads on to the Internet that you could graph it pretty accurately, with an especially steep curve formed by the stuff that lie below the surface of YouTube videos and certain newspaper articles. It’s wise to limit your exposure to this stuff because whenever you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. Occasionally though, the eye may drift below the content and catch a glimpse of how a lot of people think. One example cropped up recently when it was announced that a Bristol based company called Coexist had decided to offer its women employees menstrual leave, meaning they could work from home or take time out if they felt they needed it.

The company isn’t the first to introduce this sort of thing but, for whatever reason, this particular case piqued the media’s interest. The response to this in op-ed pieces and the comments sections on websites was both enlightening and frequently depressing. There were rational arguments, including those who argued that the last thing women need at work is to offer another stick to those who wish to beat them. Then there was a lot of predictably irrational and frequently unpleasant gibberish.

There was the inevitable misogyny, expressed as it often is in that quantum superstate of prurience and disgust that some people reserve for the bodies of women. There was the general resentment that some people – often the perpetually advantaged – have for the idea that somebody might be getting something they’re not, even though it doesn’t matter to them.

And then there was the idea that if somebody’s not at their desk at certain times of the day, then they’re not working. Of course, this idea is not restricted to the imbeciles who’ve got nothing better to do than join a mob of the unnecessarily bitter in a newspaper comments section. It also remains prevalent at boardroom level too.

There is progress of course. Last month a report from the Work Foundation claimed that by next year over half of UK organisations will offer their staff some form of flexible working. But that still leaves another half who do not. Even in those firms open to the idea, there will be some reluctance to let go of the idea of the old structures of time and place.

This seems odd when you consider how much we now understand  about workplace dynamics. We know that people tend to do more work when they are free to choose how to do it. At the same time we understand that certain forms of work can only be carried out when they are physically together. We know there is a tendency for people to work longer hours than is good for them. And we also know that they are more productive when they have the ability to make decisions and take time to be human. Whether that means helping them deal with periods, taking time out to be with the kids or just whatever, we shouldn’t care so long as they are happy, healthy and doing their job in the time they allow it.

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This comment appears in the new issue of Mix Interiors

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