In the past five years, 15,000 pregnancy discrimination claims have been filed in the U.S.
That’s mind boggling unless you’re a Benefits professional. You know that despite having laws that prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, it still happens. And you know it has negative effects on the woman’s career, such as lower salaries and being passed over for promotions. But did you know that it can have physical health repercussions for the employee and her child?
The American Psychological Association studies found “perceived pregnancy discrimination indirectly relates to increased levels of postpartum depression symptoms for the mothers, and lower birth weights, lower gestational ages, and increased number of doctors’ visits for the babies, via perceived stress of the mothers during pregnancy.”
It’s obvious to see how postpartum depressive symptoms would affect a mother’s work performance, but affect her child? Just goes to show how a bad action by an untrained manager can have far reaching implications.
And the suffering doesn’t stop after the pregnancy, according to follow-up research, those same women continued to suffer the ill effects of their discrimination experience – poorer health, depressive symptoms and parental stress. Luckily, for their babies their ill effects ended after a few years.
As a Benefits pro, you have the power to help these parents-to-be and their unborn children, by not only educating executives, supervisors and managers on pregnancy discrimination, but by following these five evidence-based practices, as reported by Harvard Business Review.
This benefit has been gaining momentum for years now, and it seems to have taken an especially strong foothold since the pandemic started. One reason for this is the Great Resignation. Employers are amping up their benefit offerings to retain and attract employees. Offering parental leave programs that go above and beyond the basic six weeks of paid or unpaid leave is now becoming the norm. People want paid leave. They want three or more months of it, and they want their spouse to be able to be home to help. Plus, significant others in the workplace want time to bond with their children, too.
And while these studies talk about pregnancy in the workplace, companies are now offering parental paid leave for adoptions and fostering, too.
Helping your employees get these kinds of benefits creates a supportive and happy work environment. Pregnant employees and their significant others have less to worry about because they don’t have to figure out how they’re going to swing three to six weeks without pay. And as we’ve said before, less financial stress leads to happier, more productive employees.
Flexibility is key when it comes to pregnant employees. Allowing them to work remotely and when they’re feeling their best is important. It lessens the stress of having to commute, and work when they’re experiencing pregnancy-related illnesses.
Pregnant employees don’t want to be seen as week or incapable of doing their job. Offering remote work and time flexibility to all employees removes the stigma of giving preferential treatment because someone is pregnant, and allows them to do their jobs.
And as we keep saying, employees who are less stressed are happier and more productive.
Time off for appointments
Prenatal care requires doctor visits … lots of them. And pregnant employees often feel pressured to schedule appointments when they don’t interfere with work. However, this shouldn’t be.
Letting employees know you understand they’ll have monthly and weekly doctor appointments, and it’s OK to schedule them at their convenience, shows the company understands and cares about their health and the health of their baby. That in turn creates healthy, loyal employees.
Another study looked at the daily experiences of stress and social support during pregnancy. Lo and behold, the results showed that employees who felt supported by co-workers and bosses had the largest reduction in stress. That in turn was tied to long-term reductions in postpartum depression and a faster recovery after the birth of their child – a win for the employee and the company.
Meet with managers and encourage them to sit down with pregnant employees and find out what “social opportunities” they want and need before, during and after work hours. Maybe they want to set up coffee breaks or group session with other new parents for advice.
Also, find out if they want co-worker connections after they take leave. Do they want to be included on emails or Zoom meetings? Have managers find out and give pregnant employees what they want. And remind managers to always defer to pregnant employees’ preferences.
Doing this shows employees your attentive and supportive of their needs. This goes a long way in creating loyal happy employees.
A company that creates an inclusive climate allows their employees – pregnant or not – the ability to thrive. When people aren’t worried about their jobs, money, etc., they’re happy and productive.
Remind managers that working in an inclusive environment promotes psychological safety. And “employees’ experiences of inclusion are directly linked to managers’ inclusive leadership behaviors,” according to research by Catalyst.org.
Asking questions and listening to what their pregnant employees say promotes an inclusive environment. Empathy goes a long way!