We surveyed over 1000 people and found that 2/3 felt their manager wanted to support them on their pregnancy journey - but only 1/3 said they actually knew how to, so we'll be helping companies to open up discussions and close any gaps between policy and practice.
Some organisations have recently introduced pregnancy loss policies, but our new Pregnancy & Parenting at Work (PPAW) initiative goes further, with specialist guidance from Tommy’s midwives and other experts to make sure that employers’ intentions really translate to employees’ experiences.
Workplace support for bereaved parents
An estimated 1 in 4 UK parents lose a baby: the same number of people who experience mental health problems each year, both of which can have a lasting impact. Even losses in early pregnancy can take weeks to physically recover from, and emotionally may take much longer; a study at our National Centre for Miscarriage Research showed that 20% of losses left symptoms of post-traumatic stress even 9 months later, and both parents can struggle with this.
Despite affecting so many people on such a deep level, few employers have processes or support in place for employees going through baby loss; this can leave managers struggling to find help for someone in their time of need and fuel the common fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Mothers who experience stillbirth or neonatal death in the UK can take maternity leave, but more common losses like miscarriage happen earlier when parents may not even have told their employer – and unlike in New Zealand, any time off would have to be taken as sick leave.
Support before and after pregnancy
Up to 1 in 3 employees are pregnant or planning a pregnancy at any given time, and though not everyone is comfortable disclosing this at work, the tendency to start families later in life means people are more likely to experience problems and may need support. For example, the physical and emotional challenges of fertility treatment can be heightened in the workplace; 80% of people going through it told us they felt stressed about having to attend medical appointments and the impact on their work.
Even after a healthy pregnancy, the return to work can be a stumbling block for parents without the right support. Up to 60% of professional women currently leave within a year of their return to work, and more than half the people we surveyed would or have quit due to lack of support along their pregnancy journey – but those who feel supported are more likely to stay with their employer, often showing greater loyalty and commitment.
What we're doing to help
Organisations who partner with us as PPAW members can access online training courses and guides to help them identify and meet parents’ needs, including through complex situations like premature birth or baby loss at any stage in pregnancy. We'll also give special accreditation to members who actively offer: enhanced maternity and paternity pay and/or leave; compassionate leave policy specifically mentioning miscarriage, and 1:1 discussions with employees about support needed after loss; absence policy with flexibility for leave owing to fertility treatment; flexible working and other family friendly policies; training for line managers in how to support parents through any pregnancy journey.
“The pregnancy journey is deeply personal so everyone has their own unique needs, and that can make it hard for even the most supportive workplaces to know how to help – especially when things don’t go to plan. You don’t need to tell your employer you’re pregnant until 25 weeks, so many people struggling with fertility or loss may not have told anyone at work, which can mean they don’t feel able to reach out for support. It’s fantastic to have companies joining forces with Tommy’s, working to tackle these complex issues and letting their staff know they’ll be supported through any pregnancy journey.” - Tommy's CEO Jane Brewin
HR consultant Saffron Gallacher explained: “Losing a baby is one of the most heart-breaking events that a parent will ever face and can impact every area of their life. The role that the workplace plays can be crucial; as employers and as colleagues, it’s important we do all we can not to add to stress and anxiety during this time. Providing an environment that’s supportive, understanding and empathetic is imperative – but it can be a sensitive road to navigate, and there’s no silver bullet. Knowing what to say is hard, but not saying anything is worse. Knowing how we can support and what our obligations are is the first step.”
Kate Kendall from the People Team at PPAW member Virgin Red added: “As an organisation where we want people from all walks of life to feel valued and thrive, we’re determined to be a supportive workplace for all parents, regardless of their circumstances. We want to be there for people during important life events like pregnancy and, if it sadly happens, loss – but even with the best intentions, it can be hard to know what to say or do, so we’re pleased to have partnered with Tommy’s for their expert guidance in these complex situations.”
For more information visit tommys.org/work or search #WorkingForChange on social @tommys.