5 Ways Managers Can Support Pregnant Employees

Although there are laws against pregnancy-related discrimination in the workplace, discrimination is still common. In fact, statistics show that there have been nearly 15,000 complaints of pregnancy discrimination filed in the United States over the past five years. While we know that discrimination can have real consequences for a pregnant employee’s career outcomes, including lower pay, promotions and social capital, an open question is whether there are any consequences. on the health of pregnant employees or their babies.

To answer this question, we conducted two studies examining the workplace experiences and health outcomes of new mothers and their babies. We found that experiences of discrimination during pregnancy were linked to increased stress for mothers, which increased their risk for postpartum depression. This stress has also resulted in lower birth weight, lower gestational ages, and increased doctor visits for babies a few weeks after birth. While it may seem obvious that pregnancy-related discrimination has a negative impact on pregnant employees, we were surprised to find that it had an indirect impact on the babies they carried while they were discriminated against. . This shows the profound implications of discrimination in the workplace and highlights the importance of addressing it.

We recently followed up with the same employees and found that within a few years of birth the babies had caught up: they did not experience any continued ill effects from the discrimination and stress experienced by their mothers during pregnancy. But mothers continued to suffer from poorer health, depressive symptoms and parental stress. Our results therefore suggest that pregnancy-related discrimination may have long-term consequences on maternal health.

It is essential that employers take concrete steps to prevent pregnancy-related discrimination in the workplace. They can promote a more positive organizational environment and offer support by engaging in the following five evidence-based practices.

Help negotiate parental benefits for their employees

Managers are in a unique position to provide the kind of support at work that pregnant employees need to reduce stress throughout pregnancy. Pregnant employees tend to disclose their pregnancy after the first trimester, and the manager is probably one of the first people they do. As such, a manager’s initial reaction can shape perceptions of future treatment and therefore impact stress. While it is important to have a supportive tone at the time of disclosure, knowing the parenting benefits of the business in advance can be especially helpful. Without federally mandated parental leave, the benefits offered vary widely from organization to organization, and managers are uniquely positioned to help employees use all available organizational resources to support them.

Additionally, it is important that managers maintain an open dialogue with their employees about the types of support they need throughout their pregnancy. Well-meaning supervisors sometimes mistakenly assume that a reduced workload is beneficial when this is not always the case. Not only can a reduced workload unintentionally result in financial stress, a pregnant employee can also experience it as demeaning or even discriminatory. Open dialogue allows the employee to communicate their needs and the manager to champion the use of all benefits.

Offer flexible working options

Managers can help pregnant employees by providing flexible working arrangements, such as remote working and flexible hours. Such options are win-win, as they allow employees to better cope with their work and non-work responsibilities, thus improving performance while reducing stress. For example, remote working can enable employees to meet their professional demands when suffering from a pregnancy-related illness.

However, pregnant employees may be reluctant to use flexible working arrangements if they feel it may cause others to perceive them as not committing to their work or if they fear further harm to their careers. As such, managers are essential in normalizing the mindset that flexible working arrangements are rights, not special privileges. Additionally, when managers model healthy behaviors at work and in private life using company resources to meet their own personal and professional needs, it signals to employees that these resources are available and encouraged to be used by. the employees.

Special leave for doctor’s appointments

Prenatal care requires regular and increasingly frequent medical appointments. Appointments with antenatal care providers usually take place at least once a month until week 28 of pregnancy, when they switch to every two weeks until week 36. During the last four weeks of pregnancy, 36 to 40 weeks, pregnant women typically see their provider once a week. For people with additional considerations, such as health issues, older age, or multiple babies, the visits may be even more frequent.

In addition to visiting antenatal care providers regularly, pregnant workers often need to see several other providers, as pregnancy affects all health systems. For example, dental, nutritional and sleep needs change during pregnancy. Allowing pregnant employees to leave early, arrive late and / or work remotely when having appointments is of critical importance to the health of the baby and the employee.

Facilitate interactions with colleagues

In another study recently published by some of us, the results suggest that there are concrete strategies that employers can adopt to reduce the negative effects on the health and well-being of pregnant employees. Specifically, the data suggests that co-workers and supportive supervisors act as stress reduction resources for them.

As part of this research, we asked pregnant employees to report their daily experiences of stress and social support during pregnancy. The results showed that employees who felt supported by both co-workers and supervisors benefited from the greatest reductions in prenatal stress. Additionally, this stress reduction was associated with long-term reductions in postpartum depression and faster physical recovery after childbirth.

Since pregnant employees enjoy better mental health when receiving social support, it is essential to facilitate supportive interactions with coworkers before and after birth. Managers should ask pregnant employees how they can help create social opportunities among employees during working hours or before / after working hours, whether by organizing coffee breaks, mentoring relationships or a group employee resources. Pregnant employees may also wish to maintain some form of connection with their coworkers and supervisors after their leave from work, perhaps through a mailing list or Zoom meetings. It’s important to note that managers should always defer to the preferences of the pregnant employee – some people may find social interactions exhausting, while others may find them essential. Providing pregnant employees with several different socialization options will demonstrate attention to their needs and the flexibility to meet them. In addition, all employees benefit from a strong social bond at work.

Intentionally create an inclusive organizational climate

Inclusive behaviors signal that all employees are welcomed and valued, regardless of their gender, health, parental status or any other dimension of difference. This allows employees of all identities to flourish more. Research shows that inclusive leadership can promote psychological safety and help teams deal with differences effectively. According to a recent study by Catalyst.org, employee inclusion experiences are directly linked to managers’ inclusive leadership behaviors.

Managers can create an inclusive organizational climate by intentionally asking questions about their pregnant employees’ experiences at work and actively listening to what pregnant employees have to say. Managers should focus on empathizing with the experiences of pregnant employees and identifying and changing any practices that may be exclusive. For example, they can actively disrupt behaviors that reinforce biased behaviors and model inclusive behaviors for others to follow. It is important to create an inclusive organizational climate to develop and maintain the psychological safety of pregnant employees.

Although illegal, pregnancy-related discrimination still takes place in the workplace, and our research suggests that it can have serious consequences for pregnant employees and their babies. Given that around 85% of working women will be pregnant at some point in their careers, we recommend that managers take action to tackle this discrimination head-on. Most importantly, we recommend that managers strive to maintain an open dialogue with pregnant employees about the types of support they need.

Editor’s Note: Pamela L. Perrewé, Ashley Mandeville, Asia Eaton, Lilia M. Cortina, and Yingge Li contributed to this article.

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