Managers don't know how to support employees after pregnancy loss, survey shows

The results of our 2022 Pregnancy and Parenting at Work survey suggest that despite best intentions, most line managers don’t know what to say or do to help their employees after a pregnancy loss.
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67% of people who completed our Pregnancy and Parenting at Work survey this May felt their manager did want to support them during a miscarriage, stillbirth or losing their baby shortly after birth. But 69% said their manager did not actually know what to do to provide that support.

Lots of people said that their colleagues or managers expressed kindness, but others were met with silence or a lack of sympathy. 

“My manager didn't respect my privacy and had told everyone I was pregnant without my permission,” one person said. “When I was hospitalised with a really traumatic miscarriage, when I did come back to work she didn't ask how I was.”

Alongside our own efforts to open discussion and guide people to support someone through loss, encouraging steps forward have been made by organisations like Channel 4, who last year introduced a formal pregnancy loss policy for employees. 

Yet the percentage of people saying their manager did not know how to support them remains roughly the same in our 2022 survey as it was in 2021 – suggesting polices alone are not enough and much more needs to be done to train managers, end stigma, and change workplace culture.  

Just 10% of our survey respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked whether their employer has a miscarriage and baby loss policy, either on its own or within an existing policy. 63% said no, and more than a quarter did not know.

In the UK, 1 in 4 UK pregnancies ends in loss. Parents can take maternity or paternity leave if this happens after 24 weeks of pregnancy, but even early losses can take weeks to physically recover from, and any loss can have a lifelong psychological impact. 

Despite affecting so many people on such a deep level, few workplaces currently have support in place for employees who lose babies, which can leave managers and colleagues unsure how to help when it happens.

57% said they have, or would, consider leaving a job or not returning from maternity/paternity leave due to lack of support during their infertility, pregnancy, loss, or parenting journey – a finding in line with prior research which found that 60% of professional women leave their organisation within a year of returning to the workplace after maternity leave.

51% said that in their experience of pregnancy and parenting they did not have the workplace support they needed overall.

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"I consider myself one of the lucky ones in that I was able to take time off work - albeit sick leave - after both my miscarriages. After my first miscarriage, I was given the option of a phased return for which I was grateful. However, this ‘phased return’ only lasted two weeks, of which I had to be in work every day and work at least 50% of my hours. After the two weeks, I reverted to my usual hours. There was never a discussion around whether I would need the phased return to be extended or how I would cope going back to full time hours.

"After my second miscarriage, I was told I’d have to 'apply' for a phased return because I’d already had it once before.  This made me feel like I was inconveniencing the organisation, like it was my fault for miscarrying not just once, but twice. Needless to say, I didn’t apply for it."

— Yuen Kwan Li-Smith, East London, works in the charity sector

Loss is ignored by colleagues

More than half of people (54%) said that when they returned to the office after losing a baby, their loss was not acknowledged by colleagues, and they were not even asked how they were. 

When asked what colleagues or a manager could have said to make things better, the responses were varied. Typically, people would have appreciated a simple “I’m sorry, are you okay?”, “please take your time” or receiving a condolence card. “Anything better than silence” or being “abandoned” by colleagues was preferred. 

Several respondents said that their colleagues shared their own pregnancy loss stories, which helped with feelings of isolation.

The survey also highlighted some of the common feelings and experiences in the workplace during a pregnancy journey: 

•    79% felt like they were letting colleagues down if they needed time off
•    83% had ‘put on a brave face’ at work
•    63% went into work despite not really feeling capable
•    56% worried that they were being judged
•    46% had experienced colleagues saying insensitive things

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“Our 2021 and 2022 workplace surveys show consistent themes of missing or inadequate support, and workplace culture which remains quiet, awkward, insensitive, or even hostile in the face of situations like baby loss. 

“We completely understand that it can be difficult to know what to say or do when a colleague is impacted by loss – finding the right action or putting your empathy into words is tough and everyone is different. But as our survey results indicate, saying or doing nothing is worse.
 

— Jacqui Clinton, Tommy’s Fundraising Director

Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work

In 2021 we launched Pregnancy and Parenting at Work, an interactive training programme to help workplaces support their employees through any pregnancy journey, from planning and parenting to complications and losses. 

Bupa Global and UK and Santander are among organisations now investing in their employees by partnering with us to provide the training and resources that will help their managers to understand, recognise and meet parents' needs, including through complex situations like baby loss. 

The Pregnancy and Parenting at Work package includes an interactive e-training programme, toolkits for HR teams and line managers, and support for creating or developing pregnancy and baby loss policies. Members can also apply for Pregnancy and Parenting at Work Champion accreditation to celebrate those going above and beyond for their employees and encourage others to follow their example.

Jacqui Clinton, Tommy’s Fundraising Director, said: 

“Tommy’s has long-campaigned to break the silence around baby loss, and while it feels that progress is starting to be made with pregnancy loss policies beginning to come into place and through the conversations prompted by stories shared, for many of us that stigma and silence remains. 

“A real cultural shift is needed to develop supportive workplace communities where people feel able to share things with their colleagues, ask managers for help when needed, and ensure they get the sort of help that is appropriate and works for them.”

Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work survey was completed by 431 people over three weeks in May 2022.

To find out more about Pregnancy and Parenting at Work visit tommys.org/work