With more parents choosing to stay in full-time employment while also taking on the challenge of parenthood, the role employers can play in supporting maternal mental health in the workplace is becoming more critical. Given the challenges faced by all in the last year, it's more important than ever that people understand the risks, issues and potential solutions available.
After giving birth to a child, many mothers experience a period of ill-mental health known as 'postnatal depression'. Symptoms include increased anxiety, low moods and withdrawal from contact with others. It is also widely reported that postnatal depression can affect fathers returning to work from paternity leave. In fact, charity Family Lives report that 1 in 14 men experience postnatal depression.
A UCL study has shown that the population of the UK's happiness and life satisfaction levels at the beginning of 2021 were at their lowest point. This is due to COVID-19—and anyone giving birth at this time is likely to have felt immense extra pressure.
How can I support parents returning back to work?
Giving birth is a life-changing event and can have lasting effects on parents - emotionally and physically. When the time comes for them to return to work, the way in which any employer manages this period can be the difference in retaining or losing a key team member.
Here are several tips to consider when supporting maternal mental health in the workplace.
Stay in touch - When a member of your team leaves for maternity leave, it's important that you schedule various 'check-in's' before they go. Reassure them that these appointments are informal and are in place to see how they are coping while being away from work.
You can use these meetings to update them on any business updates or changes to the workplace. This will help them still feel like a valued member of your team and ease any worries they may have before returning to work.
These updates must communicate clearly about the COVID-19 measures you've put in place. A new parent will be anxious about their baby's health—and a global pandemic means setting their minds at ease won't be easy. Be calm and clear, tell them exactly what your business is doing to ensure workers' safety and wellbeing, and ask if a new parent has any suggestions for things you can do.
Flexible working - It's common for returning parents to ask for their work patterns to be adjusted to fit their needs, such as childcare requirements, medical appointments etc. By allowing them some flexibility with their working hours, you will see happier and more dedicated employees.
Training - Early intervention is vital in supporting employees living with maternal mental health problems. Educating and training your line managers to help them spot the signs of team members struggling with their emotional health will be vital in supporting your people and saving the business HR and recruitment costs.
Workplace culture - The most effective way to support maternal mental health at work is to cultivate a culture that view's maternity and paternity leave as a brief interlude in an employee's career, not a hindrance.
Returning to work for new parents can be a highly stressful and emotionally draining time, and employers need to be aware of the mental health risks associated. However, if careful consideration is applied to workplace wellbeing strategies, employers will see their employees return in a sound and safe manner.
Kayleigh Frost, Head of Clinical Support at Health Assured.