How to support employee wellbeing during early parenthood

Becoming a parent brings with it a rollercoaster of emotions: happy, amazed, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted… The list goes on.

On top of other things, it’s a journey that severely impacts a new parent’s worklife. 

Employees may not be financially prepared for what’s to come, and so will likely bring financial stress into the workplace. They may also experience feelings of loneliness which come from the physical and social demands of looking after a young child.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways companies can help their employees during this time. Ways that can improve the lives of new parents, while also increasing company engagement, productivity, and employee retention.

This is crucial because failing to understand and assist new parents, particularly mothers, exacerbates organisational issues such as the gender pay gap, the pension funding gap, and a lack of women in senior roles.

To explore how companies can support the wellbeing of employees in early parenthood, and why they should, we spoke to Sarah Mortimer and Chelsea Dennison. There are few better people to speak to on this topic, and here’s why…

Sarah has over a decade of experience in HR, has recently become a mother, and works in Employee Experience at Peppy – a digital platform that helps employers give their people expert support for under-served areas of healthcare including the menopause, fertility, pregnancy, early parenthood, and men’s health.

Meanwhile, Chelsea is a qualified financial planner with a passion for ensuring everyone has access to financial assistance, regardless of their income. She’s also a financial coach at Bippit, working every day with new parents to help relieve anxiety and create financial peace of mind.


What are the financial costs of being a new parent?

In a US survey of working women, over 25% said that post-Covid they are considering permanently reducing the amount of time they allocate to their careers, or leaving the labour market for good.

One of the big reasons for this is the cost of childcare, with women often the primary caregiver (per week, women spend 7.7 hours more on childcare than men).

Chelsea explains the situation: “you can save and put yourself in the best possible position, but it’s almost impossible to fully prepare for the financial costs of a child. On average, childcare in the UK costs about £60 a day. If you need it for 25 hours a week then that’s about £6,800 a year which is a lot of extra money. This is on top of early parenting costs such as car seats, clothes, and nursery furniture.”

These extra costs come at a time when a new parent faces a significant loss of earnings.

The current UK statutory maternity pay is 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks. Then it’s £151.97 for the next 33 weeks. That means a new parent earning £30,000 a year can expect to see a drop in earnings of 58% over the whole period. 

That’s a big shortfall to prepare for, something Sarah has seen first-hand: “I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my career is on hold for a little while. I need to budget very differently now, especially with obligations such as a mortgage.”

“Before you become a parent you need to look at your finances a few years out. Only then can you begin controlling your outgoings and get yourself into a position where you’ve saved enough.”


Why we don’t talk about parenthood in the workplace

Across many companies there is a stigma attached to talking about having children, mainly due to a fear of how others will perceive you and your future ability to work. This lack of conversation means we don’t talk about the financial implications of having a child, or how to best prepare for one.

Sarah explains: “conversations are so rare, even before pregnancy. For example, fertility is a real issue affecting one in four people. It’s an emotional journey like no other. From losing a pregnancy, to going through a process such as IVF (which in itself is expensive and comes with huge financial stress).”

“People don’t talk about parenthood at work. They are suffering in silence and it really affects their work, output, and office relationships.”

Many people will choose an employee who can best support them if they have a child. But it would take a very brave person to ask a potential employer what their parental policies are at such an early stage in the recruitment process. 

If you run a company, the simple way to address this is to be open and transparent. That way you can attract the very best talent.


How early parenthood affects their work and your company

Before, during, and post-baby, there are a range of financial anxieties and emotional uncertainties that new parents (both men and women) go through. 

These pressures are brought into work. Whether it’s a tired parent running a meeting after a broken night’s sleep. Or an anxious one dealing with situations that vary from where to put their baby for eight hours, to what clothes will fit post-childbirth.

Chelsea says: “post-baby, new parents feel under more pressure than ever before. They have a huge amount of worry and don’t feel as financially secure (they could even be in a worse financial position having accumulated debt).”

“This creates extra stress on top of the anxiety of leaving a new baby at home. All of this can make a person distracted at work and less productive. That’s before we begin talking about the implication of childcare costs.”

Sarah is particularly keen to ensure that companies fully support Mums and Dads back into the workplace: “we must make sure their return-to-work process is really effective. How do we help them with their anxiety? How do we ensure they know they’ve got flexibility if they need to leave early?”

“I’ve seen a lot of employees leave after having a baby. They try to make it work but at the end of the year they look at their finances and see their income isn’t much more than their childcare outgoings. They leave and do the childcare themselves which opens up the gender gap and takes women out of the workforce.”

“There’s the motherhood penalty too, where as soon as you’re pregnant you may be overlooked for promotions.”

“In HR we need to challenge ourselves, and the companies we work at, to make sure policies are very inclusive and that families aren’t penalised. We need to do more to give parents all the tools they need to thrive.”

Why companies should support their staff

“Many forward-thinking businesses are looking at their approach to families, not least those businesses who want to be a B Corp,” says Sarah. 

“But there are numerous reasons why companies need to be more inclusive for new parents. I’m so emotionally engaged with Peppy right now because of how they’ve treated me through my pregnancy.”

Fundamentally, if your company can help employees through early parenthood then you’ll have a much happier workforce. 

Your people will go into work feeling completely supported. And you’ll also have a mix of men and women, across different ages, working throughout your company to provide better, and more diverse, thinking.

5 ways to make your workplace better for new parents

Combining our experience at Bippit with the thoughts of both Sarah and Chelsea, here are some things any HR manager or company leader can do today to help any employees in early parenthood…

  1. Be open and engaged with your workforce whether that’s having office areas for breastfeeding, or being more honest with communication.  At a time when a parent’s income is down and expenditure is up, you should engage with your workforce and make new parents feel comfortable having financial conversations, particularly if they’re feeling stressed and worried.
  1. Be as clear as possible about maternity and paternity policies, and make sure you signpost to them so everyone knows what to expect. Chelsea adds: “understand what government support and benefits are available, then tell your employees about them. Things like free NHS dental care and prescriptions, Working Family Tax Credits, child benefits, and paid antenatal leave.”
  1. Measure how you’re doing as a business. How does your company policy compare with others? Collect information on your gender pay gap and the number of women in senior positions. If the number is low, is it because of parenthood? 
  1. Help employees understand the costs of having children, specifically the costs of childcare. Here are some questions to give to new parents:  How much will a child cost you? Is there a shortfall between what you earn and those new costs?  How much do you need to save? What financial protection (i.e. life insurance) do you need in place in case something happens to you or your partner?
  1. Provide long-term support. Chelsea adds: “encourage your employees to create a savings goal so they feel as relaxed as possible with the financial change that’s to come…Look at offering employees a resource such as Bippit. It will give employees 1-1 access to a financial coach who can help them prepare for their unique position. Every person’s situation will be different, so companies need to offer a resource that is flexible to all.”

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