Workplaces with an eye on health and inclusiveness may want to consider expanding opportunities for one often overlooked group of professionals this year: the expecting employee. Not only do those working while pregnant deal with a myriad of normal symptoms that complicate everyday tasks; but some also experience additional and temporary health complications that can be made worse by today's modern office environment. Here's how to ease the stress of pregnancy and increase productivity in this demographic.
Common Pregnancy Health Conditions
While no pregnancy is identical, there are some common health complaints in the workplace. These include mobility issues, such as difficulty bending, stooping, climbing stairs, carrying heavy items or standing for long periods. Some of these complaints may vary from day to day; others can be severe enough to get a doctor's note requesting a modified workstation. In any case, take time to listen to how physical constraints arise for those working while pregnant. Some women may not be as forthcoming with their concerns and should be encouraged to communicate their needs proactively — not only after the situation has become unmanageable.
Limitations on movement are just one category of health condition that pregnant workers face. Issues that may come up at any point in pregnancy — not just during the later months — may include:
- Swelling in the hands and feet
- Back and neck aches
- Nausea and headaches
- Pregnancy-related disease, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, anemia, hypertension
Conditions may or may not affect work and can come and go during the duration of the pregnancy.
How Employers Can Help
Remember, diagnosis and treatment of any condition (pregnancy-related, or not) is a confidential matter between the worker and her physician. That doesn't mean that you can't make workplace accommodations to help alleviate the most common pregnancy symptoms and adapt the office environment to increase productivity and comfort. Modern workplaces have used a combination of the following to address the concerns:
- Provide standing desks or sit-stand desks to allow for a range of motion throughout the day and alleviate neck and back pain.
- Allow frequent, smaller breaks during the day for women to use the facilities, eat a snack or walk around.
- Set up a "nap room" in an unused break area or conference room for short rests, as needed.
- Provide complimentary or low-cost and healthy snacks, such as fruit, nuts, granola or yogurts to help women balance nutritional and energy needs throughout the workday.
- Offer pregnancy-related health services (through insurance or privately), such as pregnancy support groups, nutritional services and mental health services.
Employers are also encouraged to keep an open line of communication for those who need it. Whether you choose a member of HR or another team leader, assign someone to be a liaison for handling issues that expecting employees face.
Workplaces may also have a legal or moral obligation to mitigate certain environmental risks, such as certain toxic, airborne particulates and other reproductive hazards. For additional guidance on what may be required, refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hazard recognition guidelines.
Not Just for those Pregnant While Working
Finally, you don't have to wait until one of your team members announces their baby-to-be to start making healthy workplace changes; some workers may prefer to delay communication of their pregnancy for many personal reasons. Having a pregnant-friendly office environment that recognizes and allays the health concerns of expecting team members isn't just a compassionate way to care for those who are pregnant. It also communicates to women who may be expecting soon that you are an inclusive workplace with employee health at top of mind. Offering some of the above perks is good for your entire workforce, too, and can be an amazing recruitment and retention tool for years to come.