Mental Health at Work//

How Businesses Can Support the Mental Health of Employees During Pregnancy and Early Parenthood

New research shows that one in four women experience mental health conditions during pregnancy. So, how can employers support staff during this crucial time for their families?Becoming a new mum was, for too long, widely perceived as a happy, warm, and glowing time. While many women do have positive, healthy pregnancies, for many this is […]

New research shows that one in four women experience mental health conditions during pregnancy. So, how can employers support staff during this crucial time for their families?

Becoming a new mum was, for too long, widely perceived as a happy, warm, and glowing time. While many women do have positive, healthy pregnancies, for many this is not the case.

Supporting the latter, new research from King’s College London published earlier this year found as much as 25 percent of women experience mental health problems during pregnancy, including: depression (11%), anxiety (15%), eating disorders (2%), obsessive-compulsive disorder (2%), and PTSD (just under 1%)—as well as bipolar disorder and other disorders in fewer cases.

The impact of perinatal mental ill health extends to every part of a woman’s life, from her family to her work and career. And while companies across the globe are slowly improving upon both maternity and mental health policies for staff, there is still much work to be done. On top of that, it’s no small truth that persistent and dated social barriers make it difficult for people struggling with their emotional health to open up and ask for support.

A new page is turning where charities, corporations, individuals and new organizations are being applauded for breaking down these barriers and offering new innovations that help to address mental health care. But unfortunately, when it comes to perinatal mental health specifically, it seems not much is happening in terms of workplaces offering targeted solutions for struggling parents. Although, many companies large and small, particularly in the tech sector, have been working hard in recent years to improve maternity and paternity leave policies that better support new parents - which is a good place to start.

Take Netflix, for example. The US remains the only Western country in the world that does not mandate maternity leave conditions, neglecting national statutory entitlement to paid leave for parents. However, Netflix - with headquarters in Los Gatos California and satellite offices in three further US locations, as well as overseas - launched a policy in 2015 that allows new parents to take as much as 52 weeks fully paid leave following the birth or adoption of their child.

They also offer staff the flexibility to return to work before the year is up, and even take further time off within the 52-week period. Explaining the thinking behind the policy, Netflix chief talent officer Tawni Cranz wrote on the company blog, “Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home. This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.”

Amazon is another forward-thinker when it comes to policies that support parents and their families. In 2015, the mammoth corporation launched a parental leave program it believed would benefit any new parent under their employ, from casual warehouse workers to senior execs. “We spent a lot of time building a parental leave policy that would be valuable for our global employee base,” wrote Amazon’s Director of Global Programs and Services, on the company blog, “ensuring that no matter where our employees work, they are able to take advantage of parental leave during a critical time for their families.” As well as an arguably generous paid leave offering of up to 20 weeks for new mums, Amazon also offers a program titled ‘Ramp Back’, essentially “eight weeks of optional, flexible, reduced work hours”, as well as a Leave Share option that allows employees to share their parental leave with their partner.

Then there’s Snap Inc—the outfit behind Snapchat. While their employee count is notably smaller than the likes of Netflix and Amazon, with an estimated 3000 staff members around the globe, their family policies are decidedly solid. Not only does Snap offer paid leave to new mums and dads, it also offers financial assistance for those struggling to conceive, provides back-up child care coverage, caregiver assistance, and digital maternity care support.

Improved leave policies, flexible working conditions and agreements that allow employees to stay up to date with work matters while at home with their baby are all simple yet popular changes that help working parents better cope with this major time in their lives. However, considering the King’s College research, it seems clear that mental health policies for parents are a crucial next step. And make no mistake, the first corporations to come forward with such policies will no doubt be widely applauded. Because now is the best time to provide emotional support for new parents, young families, and future generations to come.

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