Supporting employees through pregnancy and baby loss – our first expert panel event

Our first Pregnancy and Parenting at Work panel event saw guests from UK organisations’ HR and leadership teams come together to understand challenges and learn how best to support their colleagues and employees through pregnancy and baby loss.

Chaired by Family and Child lawyer and Miscarriage Leave Bill campaigner Keeley Lengthorn, the panel included our Tommy’s Midwifery Manager Amina Hatia and Fundraising Director Jacqui Clinton, alongside the CIPD’s Senior Employee Relations Adviser Rachel Suff and Anna Maclaren May, HR Director at Bonnier Books.

Our research shows that 60% of professional women leave their organisation within a year of returning to the workplace after maternity leave and the most common reason is feeling unsupported by their employer.

For those who lose their baby, returning to work can be a huge challenge – in our workplace survey this year, 69% of people said their manager didn’t know how to support them after loss. Lots of people said that their colleagues or managers expressed kindness, but others were met with silence or a lack of sympathy. 

Just 10% of our survey respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked whether their employer has a miscarriage and baby loss policy.

This is why we launched our programme, Pregnancy and Parenting at Work, in 2021. This interactive training programme helps workplaces support their employees through any pregnancy journey, from planning and parenting to complications and losses. Bupa and Santander are among organisations now investing in their employees by partnering with us to help their managers to understand, recognise and meet parents' needs.

“Work is such a big part of people’s lives and affects every part of pregnancy for both the pregnant person and their partner,” explained Amina at the start of the discussion at our first Pregnancy and Parenting at Work panel event - Supporting employees through pregnancy and baby loss

“But many people tell us [through Tommy’s midwife support service] that they don’t tell their employer when they have to go to an early checking in appointment, especially when they’ve had a previous loss. They wonder how it will impact their career if their employer knows they are pregnant.”

Jacqui added: “Our research shows how vital good workplace support is for the health of those trying to get pregnant, pregnant, or experiencing loss, but we also know how beneficial it can be for employers. They have a duty of care to look after employees’ wellbeing and we know that well looked after employees are much more likely to stay. There’s a real business case for going the extra mile.”

Supporting the Miscarriage Leave Bill

Keeley’s law firm, Taylor Rose, introduced a miscarriage leave policy last year, with their HR Director inspired by new legislation in New Zealand which gives parents a right to three days' paid leave if they experience a miscarriage at any time during pregnancy, or a stillbirth. 

Sadly, Keeley became the first to take time away from work under this policy following the loss of her son George at 22 weeks. The flexibility of Taylor Rose and Keeley’s partner’s employer in allowing time off work was vital and Keeley’s now leading the campaign for Angela Crawley MP’s Miscarriage Leave Bill to be incorporated into UK law. Angela kindly sent a video message over for our panel event.

Everyone on our panel agreed that the introduction of a minimum period of leave after loss should not be seen as ‘enough’ – but it should focus organisations’ minds on the need for support. 

While fully supportive of the Miscarriage Leave Bill, Rachel Suff for the CIPD emphasised the need for flexibility and for employers to be proactive, tailor support to individuals and sensitively discuss with people what they need. She also encouraged employers to be explicit in their policies and guidance what specific support would be available in the event of pregnancy or baby loss.

Anna discussed how Tommy’s pregnancy and loss training for managers is mandatory at Bonnier Books UK and helped a cultural shift in the workplace, because simply introducing a policy isn’t always enough. Her organisation has introduced a range of initiatives this year with Tommy’s support, including a mentoring programme for people returning from family leave.

Our five expert panellists closed discussion with tips they would give employers and HR teams in best supporting employees through the pregnancy journey.

Our advice from the Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work team is:

1. Train your managers - ensuring they have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to navigate conversations around pregnancy and baby loss. This training should include guidance on language and types of loss. 

2. Have an explicit policy - naming pregnancy loss in your policies removes the burden from the employee to navigate or negotiate leave at one of the most traumatising times of their life. 

3. Be flexible - grief is not one-size-fits-all. There are many factors that will affect your employee’s mental and physical recovery and their needs may change. Create a clear but flexible return to work plan that can be reviewed, and ensure your employee is not pressured to return too soon. 

4. Talk about their loss - ask if and how they would like their news to be shared. Use their baby’s name and ask how they are. Don’t avoid your colleague or the topic of their loss, or feel you should try to “fix” things. 

5. Help break the silence - pregnancy and baby loss is still a taboo subject for many, leaving parents isolated in their grief. By providing support and normalising conversations around pregnancy and baby loss, together we can make sure every parent gets the support they need. 

Find out more about Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work