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Why employers need to find the right balance with their pregnant workers

The more supportive employers are to their pregnant workers, the less likely the employees are to return to work following their maternity leave

According to the co-author of the study, Judith Clair, who works at Boston College as an associate professor in the department of Management and Organisation, the most well-intentioned efforts of employers to care for their female employees during what can be a difficult period can have a negative effect. Finding the right balance to enable pregnant employees to feel supported, yet still competent and productive, is a complex business.

The study followed 120 pregnant employees, who filled out surveys on a weekly basis detailing their experiences within their working environments. Nine months following the birth of their babies, the women were contacted again to determine how their experiences impacted their career decisions.

Those who had received the most support were less likely to be positive about becoming working mothers. In addition to the level of help, the type of support influenced these post-partum decisions. Practical help, such as time off for doctors’ appointments or nap breaks, were accepted gratefully.

What pregnant women were more negative about was help with workloads and reducing stress, especially for those who felt perfectly capable of carrying on as usual in these areas. Women felt their employers considered them less able while pregnant, which became a threat to their self-esteem.

It seems that many pregnant women worry about being able to keep up in the face of issues such as fatigue and morning sickness; however, these worries are further increased when employers offer help, often seeing it as a sign that their performance is suffering.

It would also appear that the stigma surrounding pregnancy in the workplace is still significant. Pregnant women are often treated as a risk to safety and considered less able, less dependable, more caring and more irrational than their non-pregnant counterparts.

Prejudices and stereotypes continue, costing pregnant women promotions and sometimes even their jobs; for example, one of the participants of the study recounted the discussion she had with her boss when she found out she was pregnant. In response to her assertion that she would be returning to work, he suggested she not make a final decision until the baby had arrived and she had a better understanding about how a baby would change the demands on her time and energy levels.

Although well meaning, this projected the boss’s opinion that the employee’s job would not remain a priority in her life. Employers should not assume a woman does not know what she wants.

The cost of retaining staff can be substantial; therefore, employers will be looking to strike the right balance at these critical times. Talking to the woman in question is by far the best way to achieve this. Just because one pregnant woman made one set of decisions, don’t think that all pregnant employees will feel the same way; handle each case on an individual level.

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