Pregnancy loss and baby loss are sensitive and often uncomfortable topics, particularly within the workplace, where personal matters are not frequently discussed. Yet, these experiences affect more people in the UK than we may realise, and the impact on organisations can be significant.
Therefore, the importance of workplace support for those impacted should therefore never be underestimated, and there are a number of steps that employers can take to become more supportive.
The importance of workplace support
Unfortunately, not all pregnancies have a happy ending. At least 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and around 4,800 babies die before, during, or after birth. These statistics show the scale but it’s only by listening to those with personal experience can we understand the impact. At Sands, we hear from thousands of parents every year who share both heart-breaking and heart-warming stories of loss, growth and hope.
When it comes to the workplace we hear from many bereaved parents who have received exceptional support at work, from colleagues and managers. These parents report how this support positively impacts their wellbeing and their ability to remain productive at work. On the other hand, there are many instances where parents have faced insensitive and unsupportive reactions from colleagues, causing significant detriment to their wellbeing.
One bereaved mum said: “To be honest, I was terrified to return to my workplace, not because I didn’t feel it was a safe environment for me, but because I didn’t think I could handle the pain of having to answer questions that colleagues had. As soon as I returned though, I was made to feel comfortable and people were there to give me their shoulders to cry on or to make me feel at ease with the occasional laugh.”
In contrast, another said: “The company did not allow me to work from home, I asked as I was having social anxiety. After five weeks of working I was not feeling well, I was feeling really anxious with a lot of anger, and I was diagnosed with depression. At the moment I am on sick leave. My colleagues never gave me their condolences and my manager never asked me how I was.”
From listening to parents we know that when workplaces empower, encourage and support bereaved colleagues, their mental and physical wellbeing is improved, and they can thrive and remain productive as they grieve. However, we know from listening to HR and line managers that creating a supportive isn’t always easy and there can be some challenges to overcome.
Challenges for HR and line mangers
Through consultations and feedback, we have identified four primary reasons for the perceived lack of support:
- Lack of confidence in communicating sensitively and compassionately.
Many managers struggle to find the right words or actions when they learn that a colleague is going through pregnancy or baby loss. The cultural taboo around discussing such topics leaves people feeling unsure about what to say, often leading them to say or do nothing, leaving bereaved colleagues feeling isolated and unsupported.
- Lack of knowledge of statutory (and relevant non-statutory) entitlements.
Navigating the complex statutory employment entitlements related to pregnancy and baby loss can be challenging. Eligibility for statutory entitlements depends on the circumstances of the loss and the length of time someone was pregnant. HR and other managers may need to ask quite personal questions of employees and be comfortable talking about sensitive matters in order to properly explain entitlements and benefits.
- Lack of the right processes, and policies.
The wording in most HR maternity/paternity/shared leave HR policies can be insensitive for parents who do not have a living child but very few companies have a sperate Pregnancy and Baby Loss Policy that is worded in a compassionate way and clearly sets out different entitlements such as paid maternity leave, paternity leave, shared leave, parental bereavement leave, and miscarriage leave or signposting to any relevant support organisations.
- Lack of training and guidance for HR managers, line managers and colleagues.
Considering the above, there is certainly a lack of training and guidance for those with a duty of care for bereaved colleagues. This is why Sands provides guidance, training, and support information for workplaces. Our Bereavement in the Workplace package helps managers and colleagues understand pregnancy and baby loss, find the right words to support bereaved staff, and navigate relevant employment laws. The toolkits include a template pregnancy and baby loss HR policy that can be adapted to fit any organisation’s needs, along with various template correspondences suitable for various circumstances.
How to build a supportive workplace
To address these challenges, employers should:
- Implement a compassionate and comprehensive pay and leave policy
- Ensure HR and line managers undergo bereavement in the workplace training
- Offer bereavement in the workplace training to all employees
- Utilise Sands’ Bereavement in the Workplace toolkit
- Make support information easily accessible for employees
Clare Worgan is head of training and education at Sands