Despite its commonplace nature, there is still little understood about how employees experience pregnancy or pregnancy loss and its consequences within the workplace. Employees may fear repercussions if it is found out they are pregnant and may not want to deal with the stereotypes associated with pregnancy. Additionally, pregnancy loss is associated with feelings of guilt, shame, failure, and stigma. Because of the ambiguity surrounding the trauma and loss (often, there is not something tangible to mark the loss), many pregnant employees feel as though they are alone in their experiences and cannot reach out for help.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
Researchers (Gilbert et al., 2023) conducted a study with 29 women who had experienced pregnancy loss and returned to full-time work within five years. The researchers used semi-structured interviews to see how the employees experienced pregnancy, their loss, and its short-term and long-term effects within the workplace.
While the results are too in-depth to fully cover here, the researchers highlighted that many employees experienced a mix of reactions to their pregnancy, ranging from offers of congratulations to experiences of discrimination. Participants also disclosed their physical, emotional, and mental health complications, and how each had a negative effect on their work life, such as having to immediately disclose a pregnancy loss to a manager to get time off. Many participants reported having trouble getting the necessary support from work (whether time off or workplace support), with some participants recalling that it was even harder for their partners to get support as well. Finally, participants shared their varying experiences returning to work after the loss, ranging from understanding and support to being told to “get over it” because “it wasn’t a real loss.”
Pregnancy loss is a rather common yet highly misunderstood phenomenon. There is a large amount of stigma and shame surrounding this already traumatic experience. Organizations that want to support their employees should consider doing the following:
- Offer flexibility and support, including for partners of the employee experiencing loss. Pregnancy loss is such an individualized experience. As such, different employees will need different levels of support. Have practices in place that allow employees to work with their managers to achieve the level of flexibility and support they need.
- Highlight coping strategies and resources available within the organization. This study showed that a wide range of coping strategies, including memorialization, social support, and bereavement time, can all be immensely beneficial for grieving employees. By providing and helping employees access these services, organizations can show they care about their employees and want to help them through difficult times.
Gilbert, S. L., Dimoff, J. K., Brady, J. M., Macleod, R., & McPhee, R. (2023). Pregnancy loss: A qualitative exploration of an experience stigmatized in the workplace. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 142, 103848.
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