Reimagining the pregnancy at work journey (spoiler alert: it’s not JUST about the return to work!)
Funnily enough, a pregnant person’s journey begins well before they’re returning to the workplace. From the moment someone finds out they’re having a baby, the culture in a workplace can make a huge difference to how they feel, cope and manage their pregnancy.
It’s about creating a pregnancy positive workplace where they can feel comfortable to disclose in the first place. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could reimagine the whole thing and show pregnant people that they’re valued members of the team who we want to support?
Want to see how it’s possible? Read on…
What do we mean by “pregnancy at work journey”?
Right now for HR and people professionals ‘return to work’ is a trendy big buzzword. It’s got everyone talking. But we don’t think that pregnancy at work is solely about them returning to the workplace. We actually believe that support needs to be in place from the very start of the reproductive journey. It starts with having a positive culture in the workplace well before a pregnancy disclosure happens.
This could look like period positive toilets, providing period products, and having open conversations about women’s reproductive health with no discrimination or stigma attached to them. Women need to feel safe and supported, and not worried about telling their employer if they need adjustments. It also means breaking stereotypes for dads too, encouraging them to take an active parenting role and to talk about it at work.
Why is pregnancy often viewed as a negative thing to employers?
Sadly, many people hold stereotypes that negatively affect pregnant women at work. Keyword research shows that there are lots of people researching how to get rid of a pregnant employee or about the negative impacts of having a pregnant employee.
Sometimes pregnant employees are seen as a burden, that they’re unable to do the job they were originally hired for, and that the company would be better off without them. There’s also a fear that it’s “expensive” to have a member of staff off on maternity leave and the worry of them not returning at all.
But with 8 out of 10 women becoming pregnant at some point during their working lives, this isn’t a rare phenomenon! Businesses need to recognise that pregnancy is not a burden to bear, that it’s an opportunity to show your true values.
The Equality Act 2010 protects pregnant women from blatant discrimination, the reality of the matter is that some employers do still surreptitiously bypass pregnant employees for promotion, unfairly sack them, or make them redundant while on maternity leave. Unacceptable but that’s why groups like Pregnant Then Screwed exist.
It’s time to do things differently.
Let’s change how pregnant people are viewed at work
Pregnancies should be celebrated in the workplace, not hidden away and shamed. Support should start from before announcement - employees should feel comfortable announcing - unnecessary anxiety can be avoided by having an open, honest, inclusive and sensitive workplace culture.
Pregnant people aren’t aliens and shouldn’t be treated as such. What they’re going through is fairly commonplace and they can still do their job most of the time. Sometimes they might need some additional support due to fatigue or physical challenges. Accepting that these changes are not a sign of weakness is key, and so is acknowledging that asking for help doesn’t make a woman incompetent in her role.
Women should be supported through ALL the key stages of their pregnancy and parenthood journey. Whether that’s morning sickness or needing to go home early because their older child has fallen ill - parents are valuable members of your team!
What is very apparent is that each person should be treated uniquely where possible. Each pregnancy is different, and not everyone will feel comfortable with having their responsibilities limited purely because they’re pregnant. Don’t assume that they want changes to their job. Open up a dialogue and ask them what they need to feel supported.
Prioritise PEOPLE not processes
As well as supporting pregnant people from the start of their pregnancy and making the workplace safe for them, the conversations we have as employers shouldn't just be focused on their leave, maternity pay, and what happens when they return to work.
Approaching pregnant employees as humans, not a box ticking exercise, is vital. In a professional way, we can ask about how they’re feeling at this point in their pregnancy journey. It’s important to help them feel like their welfare matters to you (because it should!).
We understand that the maternity leave and return to work process are important and complex, but they’re actually only part of the story. Pregnant staff are still just people who want to have their needs met.
Workplaces are very process driven and not people driven - maybe it’s time for a shift in perspective? Put people first!
The benefits of creating a pregnancy friendly workplace
According to Maslow’s theory of Hierarchy of Needs, after physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the third level of human needs involves feelings of belonging. Next is Esteem, meaning self-worth, accomplishment and respect. When these needs are met, people thrive in the workplace.
When you create a workplace culture that allows everyone to feel included, safe and respected, you’ll see a huge difference to productivity and retainment of staff.
Treating pregnant employees fairly means you can usually count on a heightened level of loyalty from them on their return from maternity leave. Building a more pregnancy-friendly culture shows employees and clients that your business cares about its people. Other benefits include: healthy pregnancies and babies, reducing absenteeism and turnover of staff, retaining talent and knowledge. What’s not to love?
Danger of disconnection
Being a new parent is already isolating, exacerbated by sleep deprivation and hormone changes. In addition, people can feel disconnected from their employer when they are pregnant or when they’re on maternity leave.
Disconnection leads to feeling a lack of purpose which then leads to that person not feeling valued, which might potentially end in them looking for a different job - not the outcome either of you wants!
Keep communication channels open with your pregnant employee so they feel like they’re in the loop but don’t bombard them. Just check in with them occasionally and ask how they’re doing with no expectations or ulterior motive. A little bit of love goes a very long way and will support them in feeling less disconnected.
It is possible to create a workplace that supports and nurtures pregnant people.
Here are some key takeaways for reimagining the pregnancy at work journey:
- Establish a workplace culture where discrimination and stigma aren’t welcome
- Celebrate the announcement (if the pregnant person feels comfortable!)
- Train managers to be more family supportive and less biased against expectant mothers
- Offer training sessions and education about the legal rights of pregnant women and make sure these rights are clearly stated in the company handbook
- Normalise breastfeeding (and pumping) and supporting parents in the workplace - break those taboos!
- Accommodate antenatal appointments etc related to the pregnancy
- Keep communication channels open and the employee in the loop
- Keep dialogue open with an employee about the kind of support they might need during their pregnancy and to plan their maternity leave. Don’t make any assumptions or projections.