Pivoting Corporate Wellness to Better Serve Expecting & New Working Moms in the COVID Era

By
Jamie O’Day
,
Co-Founder
Boston NAPS
,
of

According to a recent study from UnitedHealthcare, nearly three-quarters of employees say they are interested in wellness programs, and 59% of employees with access to wellness programs say the initiatives have improved their health.

From nutrition education to onsite fitness, cooking classes, access to mental health therapy and more, HR departments have spent tremendous amounts of time and resources effectively building robust corporate wellness offerings to attract and retain top talent  who thrive in a culture dedicated to people first. Now, with COVID-19 as the forcing function of remote work for the potential long haul, HR leaders are facing new unprecedented challenges that call for agility, creativity, and deep consideration.

One hurdle that companies are working to overcome is rebuilding a sense of community and connection for the pregnant and postpartum workforce. According to the United States Department of Labor, women make up nearly 50% of the workforce, and 85% of working women will become mothers during their careers. HR leaders have always been tasked with making pregnancy a safe and positive experience for employees, but are now expected to modify their wellness programs to digitally serve expecting women and new moms who are indefinitely not returning to a physical office space.

Social distancing mandates, especially for those labeled “at-risk”, are creating unfounded feelings of isolation and anxiety for many that continue to stack on top of employee productivity and performance expectations. 

Pregnant women and new moms in the age of COVID are particularly grappling with increased anxiety and depression, according to a recent study. Pre-pandemic, 29% had moderate to high anxiety and 15% reported symptoms of depression. During the pandemic, those rates increased to 72% and 41%, respectively. This says nothing of the additional childcare and/or schooling concerns that are simultaneously sweeping the nation.

In tandem, our online community including hundreds of expecting and postpartum women from across the nation is demonstrating the fallout first-hand of this ‘new normal’, manifesting in the delayed arrival of breast milk or low milk supply. In babies, we’ve noticed a loss of more than 10% of their weight or high levels of jaundice. The culprit: Stress. 


Our pregnant families feel alone. They’re finding themselves lost and isolated with little to no prenatal visits, limited ultrasounds, attending ultrasounds alone while their partner waits anxiously in the car, and long stretches of time with no provider communication, to name a few scenarios. 


With no end of the pandemic in sight, the digitization of corporate wellness programming is emerging as a top priority for HR leaders right now, especially those considering the well-being of female employees who are birthing children and experiencing motherhood for the first time. Left with non-existent or irrelevant corporate wellness plans, many businesses are choosing to rapidly pivot and service their workforce via scalable, virtual platforms. 


We’ve put together some key HR best practices to consider if you're aiming to better support your pregnant & post natal community now or in the year ahead.


MEET YOUR EMPLOYEES WHERE THEY ARE—ONLINE

The shift to remote work is difficult for employers and employees alike, and we’re all trying to simply do our very best to adjust to the new normal we’re living in. Companies who are eager to continue serving their employees while simultaneously keeping costs down should offer more virtual options that grant access to the support and education needed. Building a strong digital community for employees can help to also boost morale in these trying times. 


New virtual educational platforms are proving to be a viable, affordable, and effective alternative to help expecting and new moms in particular tap into evidence-based and real-life expertise when they need it most, and on their own timeline as they juggle and adjust to changing family-driven schedules.


ACKNOWLEDGE THAT KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Companies need to do better when it comes to education and peer support. Investing in access to pregnancy support and education for instance, providing online classes and establishing digital communities to introduce other expectant parents, can help your employees establish a community of their own to feel as confident and connected as possible in their transition. 


One trend we’re seeing from our current corporate wellness partners across industry is expansion of programming. Our partners are requesting more virtual workshops than ever before to address very specific issues that are coming up for employees, like best practices to ease the transition for children returning to non-parental care, and monthly employee support groups for those struggling as new moms/parents.


CONSIDER THE IMPACT OF POSTPARTUM SUPPORT

Don’t forget about new parents just because they are no longer expecting! The added stresses of having a new baby at home while carving out a productive remote workspace can really take its toll. Offering access to new mom support groups upon maternity leave terms, postpartum lactation support online, digital parenting courses, and/or 1v1 maternal care experts are just a few ways to foster the mental health of your new working moms.


CREATE AN OPEN LINE OF COMMUNICATION

With the world as we once knew it basically cancelled, it’s important to build a digital environment where your workforce can stay connected. Appointments are constantly changing, what is safe one day is deemed unsafe the next. Flexibility is the theme of 2020. In order to ensure a successful transition, encourage open lines of communications with each employee. When employees feel supported, they’re more likely to be open about their needs, helping management make the workplace adaptations that can help improve retention, reduce health claims, and boost morale and engagement.


During these past few months we’ve seen the impact of this pandemic firsthand on our prenatal and postpartum communities. Our team of maternal care experts has made more referrals to licensed mental health counselors in the last four months than we have in years. We can attest to the isolation and anxiety that women are coping with as they transition from pregnancy to motherhood.

HR departments have an opportunity to address these challenges by providing the education and community support that women need to mentally survive and furthermore excel in the workplace, against what feels like all odds.