Your Employees Are Planning Families; You Should Be Planning, Too

Pregnant employee at work

What’s the best way to announce a pregnancy at work?

Do a search of the subject and you’ll find no end of fascinating advice, with typical columns running more than 1,200 words, all advising expectant mothers to plan and rehearse as if they were dropping into enemy territory and staging some sort of military exercise. Be strong; plot your moves; watch your back.  

“Nerves,” says one, “make it tough to keep even important details in mind.” 

Who can blame women for being concerned? Baby announcements ARE dicey, as evidenced by the fact that the only things more plentiful than advice on how to tell a boss you’re pregnant, are stories of bosses who, shall we say, didn’t react well. “It’s just a terrible time for this,” goes one boss’s response. Yikes! 

One wonders what is driving those reactions. Charitably (and we won’t even try to make excuses for the truly awful ones, like this), we might assume some are plain old surprise -- bosses without poker faces calculating the effect of a missing coworker. One boss confessed as much to Slate, though she at least kept her rising panic on the inside. “To [the employee], of course, I was happy and excited,” she told Slate. “But you can’t help but have a feeling of ‘What am I going to do?’ when someone who works for you announces a pregnancy.”

But what if you did know what you were going to do, at least on some level? It’s feasible, right? Figuring people might have a baby isn’t rocket science. True, you can’t go around asking if folks are planning to have children (there are laws against that, and it’s just a terrible and invasive idea anyway). But it’s not a leap to consider the possibility. If you’ve got employees, you’ve got potential new parents. People go out on leave for other reasons. Shouldn’t we at least plan for the possibility? As in…  

Budget: What happens if you’re a person down? Can you use consultants or other outside help? A contingency fund will give you confidence that you can tap support where you need it. 

Personnel: Heard about the gig economy? Help is out there. You just have to know where to look. Some up-front thinking means you’ll have a file of contacts to confidently call on when the time comes. 

Policy: What does your leave/return-to-work policy look like? Does your organization offer child care benefits? Are flexible schedules possible? Exactly where on the portal can expectant moms find all the information they need? Those aren’t details one typically hunts down when one isn’t pregnant. But having them can guide positive conversations from both sides, giving you solid footing about the future, and reassuring the employee that you’re not only dialed in, but willing and able to advise. 

There’s another good reason for mitigating your surprise. The only thing harder than being without a great employee for a few months…is being without one forever. And research shows the announcement weighs heavily on whether a new parent comes back. “When managers responded positively to a pregnancy announcement,” wrote Slate about one such study, “the employee was found to be more engaged and committed to their job and supervisor more than a year later.” Our own Modern Family Index cemented that point, showing people plotting their next move based on less-than-receptive boss reactions. 

Imagine the scenario if we all had plans; if there was no uncertainty about what we’ll do while a new mom is away; if we could consistently react with, “Congratulations!”

Then the whole formula for announcing a baby might come down to four simple words.

“I’m having a baby.”

Working mom holding baby

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

October 3, 2019

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.