PMS in the Workplace

First, let’s be clear about one thing: This post was my wife’s idea. She is one of the area’s foremost orthodontists (shameless plug #1) and a wonderful spouse (shameless plug #2). As a professional who has been in practice for 25 years, she is a good source of ideas for this blog.

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Following an attack of killer premenstrual syndrome (PMS) one day, my wife suggested that both men and women need to be more sensitive to the harmful effect this condition can have on workplace relationships (not to mention domestic relationships). I agree. Thankfully, PMS is no longer a personal issue for my wife.

Yes, PMS is a sensitive subject, the mere mention of which may seem out of place in a business blog and may cause some apprehension among readers. However, this blog has established a reputation for boldly going where no blog has gone before. Besides, I wince at the thought of ignoring my wife’s suggestion.

With that said, let’s look at PMS not as a physiological phenomenon, but rather as an interpersonal stimulus that can initiate varying degrees of misunderstanding, stress and outright hostility. As such, PMS plays a periodic but significant role in the dynamics of workplace harmony.

According to the dictionary, PMS is “a group of incapacitating symptoms, including abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, headache, fatigue, irritability and depression, that occur in many women from two to 14 days before the onset of menstruation.” While the physical symptoms of PMS obviously are unpleasant, it’s the emotional symptoms that can wreak havoc on workplace relationships.

For example, in bygone days my wife’s staff knew that her sensitivity to office irritations increased every month for about three or four days. Consequently, if she seemed unusually temperamental during that time, they didn’t take it personally. Likewise today, my wife realizes that her employees’ occasional moodiness may be linked to PMS, so she cuts them some slack. Together they have reached a higher plane of enlightened professional compatibility.

Not all places of employment possess such a heightened state of awareness. In fact, many offices and businesses where both sexes work together are plagued by occasional emotional eruptions that could be circumvented with a little empathy about the impact of PMS.

That’s especially true when the cause of a confrontation is the other form of PMS—the kind men suffer. I am not talking about male menopause, which refers to the physiological changes that occur in males in their mid-40s to mid-50s. I’m talking about Periodic Male Schizophrenia, a condition that turns a logical, charming, sensitive man into a unreasonable, surly, inconsiderate Neanderthal who would rather swallow worms than smile.

My wife has come up with a name for me when I’m manifesting my own male PMS symptoms—one that truly captures the essence of the condition. She calls me Mr. Poopy.

Interestingly, there may be a link between the PMS men get and monthly swings in testosterone levels. Medical studies have proven that men can experience many of the same physical and emotional symptoms of female PMS when their production of testosterone fluctuates. Without getting into a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo, suffice it to say, ladies, that we guys have our own hormonal hurricanes to deal with.

In order to take this discussion beyond the proprietary claim that women have on PMS, let’s use a gender-neutral term to describe this monthly emotional affliction. Let’s refer to it as TIS—Temporary Insanity Syndrome.

When either men or women are in the grip of TIS, we are usually oblivious to the consequences of our conduct. We are driven by the primal impulse to bite the nearest person and we don’t care what others may think. Of course, after the moment of madness has passed, we have some fences to mend.

Similarly, when someone we work with is under the spell of TIS, we tend to react to his or her outburst by feeling abused and angry. Our immediate urge is to fire back with both barrels. Even if we bite our tongue for the sake of job preservation or collegial harmony, we may still feel anxious and annoyed. It’s not unusual for the next person to cross our path to receive a little secondary backlash from our encounter with a TIS victim.

The first step for coping with TIS in the workplace is becoming more alert to its existence. Now you are. Next you must find your own way to cultivate the virtues of patience, compassion and forgiveness that will mitigate the fallout from a TIS eruption.

And if you’re the one who has erupted, swallow hard, go back to your victims and make amends. Perhaps a little levity about your attack of TIS might help. If you’ve been a jerk, don’t remain one by refusing to apologize. Take it from Mr. Poopy.