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Employee Listening & Maternal Mental Health: Supporting Mothers at Work

Employee Listening & Maternal Mental Health: Supporting Mothers at Work

Celebrated on May 1, World Maternal Mental Health Day marks a significant global moment of recognition, with organizations from countries including the US, Canada, UK, Turkey, and Australia, among others, rallying to enhance awareness about maternal mental health through campaigns and events. This collective international focus highlights the need to support mothers, both in and outside the workplace, through innovative policies and cultural practices that foster a caring environment.

As we recognize World Maternal Mental Health Day, it's clear that rising awareness around mental health and its impacts on productivity is pushing businesses to reevaluate how they support their employees — particularly mothers. This article discusses the current state of maternal mental health, explores the tangible benefits of supporting mothers in the workplace, and offers actionable insights for organizations looking to make a positive impact. By using employee listening to help align corporate strategies with global awareness efforts, companies can contribute to the broader movement for greater mental health support for mothers, ultimately elevating employee engagement and societal well-being.

Current Trends: An Issue of Undeniable Importance

The prevalence of depression in Canada stands at around 6%, a figure mirrored in other Western countries. Notably, women, especially those of childbearing age, are at a heightened risk, with postpartum depression affecting approximately 13% of new mothers. This demographic often faces significant depressive symptoms that go unrecognized and untreated, particularly in the crucial first months postpartum.

In 2023, mental health emerged as mothers' primary concern, marking a significant shift from the previous year and surpassing even financial worries, according to the Motherly State of Motherhood report. In the United States alone, untreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders carry a hefty economic burden, costing an estimated $14 billion annually, with a substantial portion attributable to productivity losses.

The complexities of maternal mental health extend beyond the individual, influencing the broader spectrum of society and economy. Maternal depression, with its ramifications on the socioemotional and cognitive development of children, raises concerns that reach into the future of our communities. With data underscoring maternal depression as a risk factor for child development, the stakes are high, necessitating immediate and strategic responses from all sectors of society.

Alarmingly, the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health’s report cards present a stark reality: the majority of U.S. states are failing to adequately address maternal mental health, with 42 states receiving Ds and Fs. This is not just a healthcare crisis; it's a societal challenge that begs for a concerted effort to bring about change.

The Cost to Employers

Empirical evidence and global advocacy, such as initiatives led by Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama, have consistently demonstrated that economies flourish when women are active participants in the workforce. Their contributions are not merely additive but multiplicative, fostering innovation, driving growth, and enhancing the collective intelligence of business enterprises. However, when the mental health of women, especially new mothers, is not adequately supported, employers and economies alike face significant opportunity costs.

In general, poor mental health among employees, which includes new mothers, results in significant costs to employers. The economic burden of mental health conditions, particularly among the entire working population, is significant. U.S. employers shoulder an estimated annual cost of $225.8 billion, a sum that accounts for lost productivity from the national workforce due to mental health conditions including absenteeism and workplace accidents. These costs manifest in various forms:

  • Workplace Accidents: There is a higher likelihood of accidents occurring when employees are mentally unwell.

  • Employee Turnover: Many mothers leave the workforce due to the high cost of childcare and lack of adequate support, particularly evident post-COVID as many struggle with work-life balance.

  • Absenteeism: Stress, anxiety, and depression contribute to approximately 13.8 million lost workdays each year.

The toll of mental health is particularly evident in workplace absence, and this disproportionately impacts women, who are also often serving as primary caregivers in their households. Deloitte’s recent Women @ Work report found that 39% of women have taken time off due to poor mental health. This reflects a rise from the previous global average of 33% and signals a growing trend that employers cannot afford to overlook. Deloitte’s report highlights a worrying statistic: two-thirds of women do not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues at work, which has significant implications for how organizations approach employee wellness. Women from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds encounter even more formidable challenges: over half require time off for mental health reasons but only 20% feel comfortable sharing these struggles with their employers.

Yet, there is a silver lining: companies that invest in mental health programs not only bolster the welfare of their workforce but also see a tangible financial return. According to the National Safety Council, there’s an average return of $4 for every $1 spent on mental health programs. By investing in the mental well-being of female employees, organizations stand to reclaim not only the immediate losses but also to capitalize on the broader benefits that women bring to the workforce, enhancing both societal prosperity and corporate performance.

Global and U.S.-Specific Recommendations

The transition to motherhood is a moment that can forever define a woman’s career trajectory. The first childbirth is particularly influential, often determining future work patterns for women. However, the current economic model presents hurdles, with the exorbitant cost of childcare driving many, especially low-wage earners, out of the workforce. This reality is reflected in the labor statistics that show mothers are increasingly opting out of work — a trend that doesn’t necessarily escalate with the addition of more children but is affected by the flexibility and support provided by their partners and the workplace.

Global Concerns and Considerations

The transition back to work after welcoming a new child is a significant period for mothers, filled with both joy and challenges. Employers play a vital role in this adjustment period, and their actions can profoundly affect the well-being of both the employee and her family. Here’s a detailed look at the strategies companies can implement to support mothers in the workforce: 

  • Gradual Return to Work: Integrating a ramp-up period for mothers returning from maternity leave can significantly ease the transition. A policy akin to Perceptyx's — offering two weeks of full pay for part-time hours — can provide mothers the time they need to adjust without the financial pressure. Sarah Foster, Head of Behavioral Science at Perceptyx, explains why this matters: “There's a significant transition in terms of cognitive load and time management when mothering a new child. It’s not just about baby care; it’s also about the mother's self-care, which may include therapy for postpartum depression or physical therapy. Mothers often need additional time to find a new rhythm at work, given the frequent interruptions and mental load they face.”

  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Offering unlimited vacation days and flexible working schedules can — when utilized optimally — be associated with reduced stress levels, better performance outcomes, and a greater sense of well-being. This approach, when supported by empathetic management and open communication, can significantly accommodate the demands of parenthood.

  • Supportive Work Environments: Creating a workplace that encourages wellness and open discussion about mental health concerns can establish a culture free from stigma. Providing resources such as peer mentoring and expert events can be vital in offering support without the need for a formal request from the employee.

  • On-site Amenities: Facilities like lactation rooms with refrigerators for breast milk storage, and parenting support groups, can offer tangible day-to-day support that acknowledges the unique needs of new mothers.

  • Managerial Support: Training managers to recognize the signs of mental health struggles and to respond with empathy and flexibility can help new mothers feel supported. This includes adapting workloads and schedules and promoting open communication about any challenges faced.

U.S.-Specific Recommendations

Given the comparative lack of supportive maternal policies in the U.S., organizations have the opportunity, and some might argue the responsibility, to lead the way in supporting maternal health.

  • Paid Parental Leave: Offering paid leave has been shown to improve mental health outcomes and reduce postpartum depression. Despite potential apprehensions, paid leave can enhance worker retention and productivity, proving economically beneficial without increasing operational costs. High-achieving career women have expressed a desire for flexibility in how they use their leave. The ability to tailor leave to personal needs can provide significant mental health benefits.

  • Comprehensive Benefits: Comprehensive benefits that include mental health services must be part of an employer's package. Accessibility and clear communication about these benefits are key to their utilization.
  • Childcare Support: Assistance with childcare, whether through subsidies like a flexible spending account that can be applied to offset the cost of daycare, on-site childcare, or partnerships with local providers, can alleviate one of the most significant stresses faced by working mothers.

  • Career and Retirement Protections: Ensuring that women do not face penalties in their retirement savings due to career interruptions can provide long-term financial security and peace of mind.

By implementing these strategies, companies not only support maternal mental health but also build a foundation for a more resilient and dedicated workforce. These policies can result in a more inclusive environment that values and nurtures the well-being of all employees, thereby fostering a culture of loyalty and productivity.

How Perceptyx Can Help: Leveraging Data to Support Maternal Health in the Workplace

At Perceptyx, we understand that supporting maternal health requires a nuanced understanding of the workplace environment as it relates to mothers and caregivers. Our data-driven approach enables organizations to gather critical insights and make informed decisions that foster a supportive and inclusive workplace. Here’s how Perceptyx can help:

  1. Targeted Pulse Surveys: Our People Insights Platform allows us to design surveys that ask specific questions related to the challenges and needs of working mothers and caregivers. These questions include:
  • Are you a caregiver to children under the age of 18?
  • Are you satisfied with your options for maternal leave?
  • How does your employer's health insurance plan compare to those of other employers?
  • Do you feel that your mental health coverage meets your needs?

By asking these questions, organizations can gauge the current status of support and identify gaps in their policies and benefits.

  1. Crowdsourcing: We facilitate open-ended conversations through features like QR-coded surveys where all employees can virtually gather and express their thoughts on maternity and paternity policies. This feedback is invaluable for understanding employee sentiments and tailoring support systems to meet their needs.

  2. Data Analysis: Our analytics dive deep into survey results to reveal patterns and insights that might otherwise be overlooked. For instance, we analyze responses across different demographics to understand how benefits, work-life balance, and support vary within the organization. This analysis helps tailor initiatives that are most effective for diverse groups within the workforce.

  3. International Comparisons: By comparing data across different countries or regions, Perceptyx helps multinational companies understand disparities in employee experiences with leave policies. This insight can guide organizations in standardizing their policies to align with the best practices globally.

  4. Onboarding Surveys for Returnees: For employees returning from parental leave, our onboarding and other lifecycle surveys check their readiness and comfort levels in real-time. Questions might include:
  • Are you clear on your goals for your first 30, 60, or 90 days back to work?
  • Do you have access to the information needed to do your job effectively?
  • Do you have reliable childcare, and if not, what accommodations do you need?
  • Is your workload manageable?
  • Do you have sufficient flexibility to manage your parenting responsibilities?
  1. Exit Surveys: To understand why mothers might leave the workforce, our exit surveys probe the reasons behind their departure. This data is crucial for addressing issues before they lead to further attrition.

  2. Continuous Feedback: The flexibility of Perceptyx’s platform allows for ongoing adjustments and reevaluation of strategies based on real-time feedback. Organizations can continually refine their approaches to ensure they are meeting the evolving needs of their workforce.

Perceptyx Can Help You Empower All of Your People

With Perceptyx, your organization is not just collecting data; you are actively engaging in a process that empowers your workforce. By understanding the specific needs of mothers and caregivers, you can implement more effective policies, provide better support, and ultimately create a workplace where every employee has the opportunity to thrive.

If your organization is seeking to enhance its support for mental health, maternal health, or other issues related to employee well-being, we invite you to schedule a meeting with a Perceptyx team member today.

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