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Charity helping companies to support workers through pregnancy challenges

As New Zealand legislation on bereavement leave for miscarriage sparks debate, UK charity Tommy’s has created a new service to help employers give parents the right support on complex pregnancy journeys, from planning and parenting to complications and losses.

Some organisations are now introducing pregnancy loss policies, but Pregnancy & Parenting at Work (PPAW) goes further, with guidance from Tommy’s midwives and other experts to close any gaps between policy and practice. For example, recent Tommy’s research found two-thirds (69%) of parents felt their manager wanted to support them, but only one-third (34%) said they actually knew how to, so PPAW will help members like Virgin Red and Arqiva to open up discussions and ensure employers’ intentions really translate to employees’ experiences.

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 Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research found 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 lose a baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy in the UK can take maternity leave, but most losses happen much 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.

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, fertility treatment’s physical and emotional challenges can be heightened in workplaces where presenteeism is valued; 80% of people going through it said 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. More than half (52%) of working parents told Tommy’s they 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.

PPAW members can access online training modules from Tommy’s experts to help them identify and meet parents’ needs, including through complex situations like baby loss. On top of the obvious benefits for employee health and wellbeing, PPAW can boost the efforts of companies looking to improve their diversity, equality and inclusion. Members will also reduce their gender pay gap as they become well-positioned to attract, retain and grow female talent.

Organisations get special accreditation from Tommy’s if they actively offer: enhanced maternity and paternity pay and/or leave; compassionate leave policy specifically mentioning miscarriage, and 1:1 discussions with employees about the 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.

Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin explained:

“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.”

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 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, please visit: tommys.org/work or search #WorkingForChange on social @tommys.

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