Baby on board? How HR can help pregnant employees adjust

Creating a family-friendly workplace is vital for retaining talent—after all, 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It’s also becoming increasingly common for women to work while pregnant: The Pew Research Center cites Census Bureau data that shows 66 percent of mothers who gave birth to their first child between 2006 and 2008 worked during their pregnancy, compared to only 44 percent who worked during pregnancy in the early 1960s.

Since not all managers might feel comfortable addressing the issue, HR can come alongside the team to play an important role in helping pregnant employees adjust to their upcoming maternity leave—and eventual return. Here are five solid strategies to consider.

Make sure employees understand their benefits

This is a good time to talk with the employee about whether she has any questions about how to get her maternity and post-partum needs handled. You might walk through:

  • Company leave policies
  • What Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms she’ll need to fill out
  • Benefits-related questions such as whether any retirement match continues while on FMLA and details on how to add baby to the insurance policy
  • Information on disability insurance….many people don’t know that pregnancy is the most common cause of short-term disability claims.

Help create a transition plan for the employee with her manager

HR can be a big help in working with the team to help decide how work will be handled in the employee’s absence. Among the factors to consider, depending, of course on the employee’s role are:

  • How and when to tell the internal team
  • How and when to tell clients
  • Who will take over the work, as in will you be hiring a temporary replacement or dividing it among the existing workforce
  • How to best document project statuses to ensure the right people are in the loop
  • A checklist of day-to-day duties that others might not be aware of
  • A plan for who will manage existing direct reports
  • Proposed availability (if at all) during maternity leave, understanding that some of these details may change
  • A plan for the return, including potential part-time work to make the transition smoother
  • A document detailing what happens if she should go into labor in the office, including information about where she plans to deliver; phone numbers of doctor, doula or midwife; emergency contacts, etc.

The goal is to cover all potential issues to coordinate a seamless exit and pave the way for a pleasant return.

Create a mentoring program or support group

Becoming a parent is overwhelming and can place a lot of stress on a young mom (or dad!) trying to juggle a job. Many companies find that the first few months are crucial for eventual retention, and if a parent feels supported and understood, they are liable to make it work out.

That’s why you should consider hosting a support group where parents can meet to discuss and share issues related to childcare and other pressing topics. (Remember that HR should serve in an advisory role, rather than as a facilitator, to keep the conversation open and honest—and helpful.)

Pairing a returning parent with an experienced co-worker can also make the transition easier. They likely have many questions related to everything from work/life balance and how to travel as a new parent to helping get their baby into a sleep routine.

Set up a mother’s room

Many young mothers come back to work planning to pump, and find themselves thwarted by a lack of private facilities. Ease the burden on new moms by setting aside a walled-in space (with a lock!) where moms can retreat when they need to pump. Include a comfy chair, a TV and a fridge to store milk.

Strike a cautious note

You want to be careful not to overstep your bounds and assume something that isn’t true, such as that a pregnant employee is just going to quit or that a new mom won’t want to travel—many women want to keep their workload as robust as ever. Take care not to make assumptions, but rather to keep the lines of communication open for the best chance of retaining employees after their little bundle of joy is born.

And of course, at all times HR must take care to follow all applicable laws and ensure others in the company do the same.