According to recent reports, up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. With more parents choosing to stay in full-time employment, while also taking on the challenge of parenthood, the issue of what role employers can play in supporting maternal mental health in the workplace is becoming more important.

One of the most significant challenges for mothers struggling with mental health issues is the stigma associated with it. Many women feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their struggles, and this is particularly true in the workplace. Fortunately, there are several ways that employers can create a supportive environment that promotes maternal mental health.

Mental health risks

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 withdrawing from contact with others.

It is also widely reported that postnatal depression can affect fathers returning to work from paternity leave. In fact, the UK-based charity Family Lives report that 1 in 14 men experience postnatal depression.

How to support parents returning to work?

Giving birth to a child is a life-changing event and can have lasting effects for parents – emotionally and physically. When the time comes for them to return to work, the way in which this period is managed by any employer can be the difference in retaining or losing a key team member.

Take a look at these tips to consider when supporting maternal mental health in the workplace…

  • Workplace culture: the most effective way to support the 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. The first step to supporting maternal mental health is to create a culture of openness and empathy in the workplace. Employers can start by educating their staff about the prevalence and impact of maternal mental health issues. This could include providing training sessions, holding workshops, or distributing informational materials. By raising awareness of these issues, employers can help reduce the stigma and create a more supportive environment.
  • Stay in touch: when a member of your team leaves for maternity leave, it’s important that you schedule various ‘check-in’s’ after they leave. 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.
  • 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. Flexible work arrangements, such as remote working, flexible hours, or part-time schedules, can help mothers manage their work and family responsibilities more effectively. Employers who offer flexible work arrangements can benefit from increased employee retention and job satisfaction, as well as reduced absenteeism and turnover. By allowing them some flexibility with their working hours, you will see happier and more dedicated employees.
  • Encourage open communication: another critical factor in supporting maternal mental health is communication. Employers should encourage open communication between employees and managers and create a safe space for employees to discuss their mental health concerns. This could involve regular check-ins with employees, where managers can ask how they are doing and whether they need any support. Employers could also consider creating a mental health policy that outlines the company’s commitment to supporting employees’ mental health and the resources available to them.
  • Training:early intervention is key 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.
  • Promote self-care: finally, it is essential to promote self-care and stress-management techniques for employees. This could involve providing access to mindfulness resources, yoga classes, or meditation sessions. Employers could also promote physical activity by providing on-site gym facilities or organising group fitness activities. Encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the day and promoting work-life balance can also help reduce stress and improve mental health.
  • Mental health service: another way that employers can support maternal mental health is by providing access to mental health resources. Many mothers may be hesitant to seek help for mental health concerns due to stigma or lack of access to resources. Employers can help to reduce these barriers by providing access to mental health support services, such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or mental health counselling. Health Assured’s EAP offers confidential counselling services to employees and their families, providing them with a safe space to discuss their mental health concerns. Employers can also provide educational resources on maternal mental health, such as information on postpartum depression and anxiety, and how to access resources for treatment and support.

Returning back 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 safe and sound manner.

Kayleigh Frost
Head of Clinical Support at Health Assured | Website | + posts

Kayleigh Frost has full responsibility for the management and development of the occupational health teams at the UK and Ireland's leading mental health and wellbeing provider. She oversees the clinical management and governance of the organisation's wider network of affiliate counsellors and wellbeing practitioners and manages Health Assured's trauma and wellbeing provisions. Kayleigh is a qualified Mental Health First Aider, and a regular guest speaker at industry-leading webinars and events.