POSTPARTUM PLAN REPORT: THE CORPORATE BENEFITS OF PROVIDING POSTPARTUM SUPPORT TO EMPLOYEES
By Kimberley Kudwoli
36% of UK professionals do not believe their employer provides enough support to new parents. This report presents important research on the effects of inadequate postpartum support from employers on the workplace by outlining: postpartum employment patterns, the challenges new parents face in the workplace, and the corporate benefits of postpartum support.
Inadequate postpartum support has been associated with downward occupational mobility among new parents, particularly in new mothers who experience reduced wages, career stagnation, and in many cases completely leave employment. Only 27.8% of new mothers return to work on a full-time basis three years after childbirth and the risk of downward occupational mobility lies at 15% for new parents.
New parents face a myriad of challenges in the workplace including:
- Inadequate parental leave and benefit policies
- Lack of flexible working arrangements
- Harassment and discrimination
- High childcare costs
- Reduced earnings
These challenges cause new parents to feel disconnected from the workplace, cause job dissatisfaction, and may lead employees to leave their jobs due to the lack of postpartum support from the workplace. It is estimated that approximately 54,000 new mothers are forced out of their jobs each year after childbirth costing women up to £112 million in lost wages and paid parental leave.
Providing comprehensive postpartum support to new parents and addressing the challenges new parents face in the workplace is associated with numerous benefits to employers through increased employee retention – of up to 50% of new mothers in companies like Google, cost savings in employee turnover of at least $15,000 per employee, improved employee morale and productivity, attracting new talent, and improved financial performance. The business return on investment in postpartum support to new parents is evident. In conclusion, this report highlights the need for more comprehensive postpartum support to new parents from employers and the benefits that increased postpartum support can bring to employers by supporting company performance and productivity while reducing costs.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 830 million women around the world lack access to adequate maternity protection (ILO, 2014). Furthermore, UN Women estimates that only 41% of mothers with newborns receive maternity benefits (UN Women, 2019). Across the world, there continues to be a lack of adequate provision of postpartum support to new parents whether in the form of legal protection, maternity benefits or return-to-work support.
In recent decades, there has been a gradual shift in the provision of postpartum support to new parents by governments across the world, primarily through paid maternity and parental leave as well as legal job protections for parental leave (ILO, 2014). Despite this progress, there still remain large gaps in postpartum support for new parents, particularly in the workplace.
In 2019, a LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report found that 36% of UK professionals believe their employers do not provide enough support to new parents and nearly 60% of UK professionals stated their employer was not completely transparent about their parental policies when joining their companies (LinkedIn, 2019). In addition to the lack of comprehensive parental leave policies, employees have raised additional concerns about the other forms of postpartum support including the lack of flexible working arrangements, lack of adequate support for breastfeeding support, and lack of policies to help employees re-integrate back into the workforce (WEP, 2020).
Investing in providing comprehensive support to new parents in the workplace has been found to provide various benefits to companies and their employees. Companies that invest in supporting new parents tend to attract new talent, retain current employees and boost employee productivity at minimal costs to the company, while employees who receive adequate postpartum support report feeling more satisfied with their jobs and cite improved mental and physical health (WEP, 2020; Koru kids, 2022; Vanderkam, 2016).
This report presents key research on the effects of inadequate postpartum support from employers on the workplace by outlining: postpartum employment patterns, the challenges faced by new parents in the workplace, and the corporate benefits of postpartum support in the workplace.
POSTPARTUM EMPLOYMENT PATTERNS IN THE UK
Without adequate postpartum support from employers, childbirth has the potential to cause large shifts in the employment trajectories, career paths, and employment earnings of new parents. Additionally, these large divergences in new parents often display gendered patterns which negatively impact women’s employment opportunities and place increased pressure on men and non-birthing caregivers to be the main earners in a household (Harkness et. al, 2019). Furthermore, the downward occupational mobility of new mothers in the workplace, as a result of inadequate postpartum support has broader implications on the gender pay gap and economic participation of women in the workforce.
In 2018, the UK Government commissioned a series of evidence reviews on family-friendly policies and women’s progression in the workplace with the purpose of understanding women’s employment pathways before and after the birth of their first child. Below is an overview of postpartum employment patterns among new parents in the UK workforce:
The report found that women compared to men experienced quite large divergences in their career paths following the birth of their first child. Compared to 90% of new fathers, only 27.8% of new mothers remained in full-time employment (including self-employment) three years after the birth of their child. This figure further falls to 15% after five years (Harkness et. al, 2019). Furthermore, out of the women that do return to work on a full-time basis, 6% of them transition into part-time employment in the first five years of their child’s birth (Harkness et. al, 2019). This is particularly prevalent in occupations with large numbers of part-time workers. More so, in couples where both partners worked full-time prior to birth, only 48% of these couples remained in full-time employment three years after the birth of their first child (Harkness et. al, 2019).
Following the birth of their first child, women in the UK are more likely to transition into part-time employment within three years. This transition to part-time employment is also coupled with career stagnation and reduced chances of receiving a promotion. Five years after the birth of their first child, 6% of women in part-time employment were likely to completely leave employment (Harkness et. al, 2019. Furthermore, in couples where both partners worked full-time prior to birth, the report found that in 36% of couples, women moved to part-time employment while their male partners remained in full-time employment (Harkness et. al, 2019).
Compared to 4% of men, 17% of women are likely to leave employment completely in the five years following the birth of their first child. More so, in couples where both partners worked full-time prior to childbirth, in 15% of those couples, women left employment while their male partners remained in full-time employment(Harkness et. al, 2019). The report also found that women who leave employment following childbirth are three times more likely to return to a lower-paying position compared to women who do not leave employment (Harkness et. al, 2019).
Downward occupational mobility
Another major trend in postpartum employment patterns was the gradual process of downward occupational mobility for new parents. According to the government-issued report, the risk of occupational downgrading among new parents was 18% (Harkness et. al, 2019). However, the report also found that five years after childbirth, new mothers had lower chances of occupational upgrading (13%) compared to new fathers (26%), especially if they stayed with the same employer. This left new mothers stuck in their current job roles with limited career progression (Harkness et. al, 2019). Furthermore, although there were no differences in occupational mobility patterns between new mothers in full-time and part-time positions, new mothers who left employment and later returned to employment were three times more likely to return to lower-paid or lower-responsibility positions (Harkness et. al, 2019).
In conclusion, the report found that childbirth significantly altered new parents’ employment patterns. In particular, women’s employment outcomes were disproportionately affected after childbirth with over 50% of women not returning to full-time work three years after the birth of the first child. Compared to men, women were less likely to return to full-time employment and faced downward occupational mobility and reduced pay, especially if they temporarily left employment and returned to work at a later time. This report outlines the disproportionate impact of childbirth on women’s employment outcomes and career progression compared to men. It highlights the need for postpartum support for new parents, particularly new mothers, in the workplace in order to prevent downward occupational mobility for new parents following childbirth.
CHALLENGES FACED BY NEW PARENTS IN THE WORKPLACE
According to a survey of 4,000 professionals in the UK, 36% of professionals do not believe their employer provides enough support to new parents (LinkedIn, 2019). Lack of support in the workplace can be attributed to a variety of factors affecting new parents’ ability to spend time with their children such as parental leave, working structures such as flexible working hours, workplace behaviours including workplace harassment, and incentives to work including high childcare costs and reduced earnings. Here is a list of challenges faced by new parents in the workplace:
- Inadequate parental leave and benefits
One of the major issues facing new parents in the workplace is inadequate parental leave policies or ambiguity surrounding parental leave policies in the workplace. A recent survey of 4,000 workers in the UK found that 60% of workers stated that their employer was not completely transparent about their parental policies when they joined the company with 37% of workers being unaware of what support their workplace provides to new parents (LinkedIn, 2019).
Feelings of inadequate parental leave are particularly prevalent among new fathers and non-birthing caregivers. Research from Koru Kids found that 45% of parents were unhappy with their parental benefits largely in part because 76% of fathers and non-birthing caregivers were only offered the minimum statutory requirement of two weeks of leave by their employers (KoruKids, 2022). Given the longer statutory requirements of parental leave for mothers, fathers and non-birthing caregivers often feel the brunt of inadequate parental leave policies which leave them with limited time to bond with their newborns and leave them feeling unsupported by their workplace. In contrast, an investigation into pregnancy discrimination by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 66% of mothers felt their employer supported them during pregnancy and when they returned to work (Harkness et. al, 2019). However, 26% of mothers did report too little contact with their employers during their maternity leave (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015).
This highlights the importance of adequate parental leave for both parents and increased employer support for new parents through increased or equal paternity leave, better parental benefits, and occasional contact with new parents during parental leave.
- Lack of flexible working arrangements
Another major challenge facing new parents in the workplace is the lack of flexible working arrangements. 38% of workers identified the need for more flexible working policies in the workplace but felt uncomfortable bringing this forward in the workplace due to fear of feeling like an inconvenience (41%), fear of being denied flexible working hours (40%), and fear of being viewed as less committed to their jobs (33%) (LinkedIn, 2019).
In cases where new parents, specifically new mothers requested flexible hours from their employer, 10% of new mothers were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments and when allowed to work flexibly, 50% of new mothers reported feeling less valued and received fewer opportunities at work (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015).
Employers are encouraged to clearly communicate opportunities for flexible working arrangements to new parents and provide more opportunities for flexible working arrangements without fear of negative repercussions or discrimination.
High costs of childcare pose a significant challenge to new working parents in the UK. Given the high costs of childcare costs, it is estimated that a household income of at least £55,000 a year is required to comfortably cover childcare costs, a figure that is in stark contrast to the average salary of £29,832 in the UK. Due to the rising childcare costs and the inability of average salaries to comfortably cover these costs, many new parents are forced to consider not returning to work with only 23% of UK workers finding it financially worthwhile to return to work after having a child (LinkedIn, 2019).
- Negative treatment, harassment, and discrimination
Many new parents, new mothers in particular, cite workplace harassment and discrimination as a challenge key issue during pregnancy and after childbirth. According to the pregnancy discrimination report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, three in four mothers have experienced negative experiences during pregnancy, maternity leave and on returning to work (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015). These include unfair dismissals, exclusion from promotions, sexual and verbal harassment, and refusal of time off for ante-natal care. More so, 9% of new mothers mentioned being treated worse by their employer upon returning to work and 7% of new mothers experienced feeling pressure to hand in their notice (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015).
These forms of harassment and discrimination are particularly pervasive among mothers under the age of 25, where 6% of mothers under 25 experienced dismissal compared to 1% across all age groups and 10% of mothers under 25 were treated so poorly that they left their jobs compared to 5% of mothers of 40 (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015). It is estimated that each year, maternity discrimination costs women £112 million in lost wages and maternity pay (Maternity Action, 2023).
Employers are encouraged to educate workers on the different forms of harassment including pregnancy and maternity-related harassment. More so, employees should install stringent measures in place to monitor, reduce, and prevent workplace harassment and pregnancy discrimination.
- Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection
New parents have also reported feeling lonely and disconnected from the workplace after having a child. Women are 60% more likely than men to report feeling more lonely after becoming parents with 73% of women stating that they feel disconnected from the workplace (Vodafone, 2022).
Inadequate postpartum support for new parents not only affects employees in the workplace but also affects employees’ health. Research from Koru Kids revealed that inadequate postpartum support for new fathers negatively impacted their mental health (56%) and physical health (24%) (Koru Kids, 2022). Furthermore, 15% of new mothers stated that negative treatment from colleagues and managers had a negative impact on their health or stress levels during pregnancy – this number increased to 25% in single mothers (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015).
Another challenge faced by new parents is reduced earnings by new mothers in the workplace. Given the high risks of downward occupational mobility to women in the workplace after childbirth, it is no surprise that new mothers tend to earn less than new fathers regardless of their prior earning status before childbirth. When examining couples earning a year prior to childbirth in the UK, researchers found that the man was the main earner in 54% of couples and in 31% of couples, partners earned equal shares. However, three years after childbirth, the share of couples where the man was the main earner rose to 69% of couples and the share of couples with equal shares among partners dropped to 20%. This suggests a general decrease in the earnings of women and minimal changes in the earnings of men (Harkness et. al, 2019).
Reduced earnings among new mothers can be attributed to the aforementioned gender-sensitive challenges faced by new parents in the workplace such as high childcare costs, workplace discrimination, lack of flexible working arrangements, and isolation from the workplace. Employers should work towards improving the working conditions for new parents by providing increased and comprehensive postpartum support to new parents.
CORPORATE BENEFITS OF POSTPARTUM SUPPORT
Providing postpartum support to new parents in the workplace not only provides major benefits to employees in terms of their productivity, well-being, and overall job satisfaction but also provides good business to employers by increasing employee retention, reducing recruitment costs, and positioning employers as modern and progressive competitors in the job market (Vanderkam, 2016). According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 84% of UK employers believe that supporting women on maternity leave is in the best interest of their organisations (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015). Below is an overview of the corporate benefits associated with providing postpartum support to employees in the workplace:
- Increases employee retention and reduces employee turnover costs
The provision of comprehensive postpartum support to new parents plays an important role in improving employee loyalty, increasing employee retention and reducing the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees. This is particularly important for new mothers who are more likely to leave employment after giving birth. According to the 2019 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report, 26% of women in the UK workforce have considered switching jobs careers to find more accommodating jobs for working families (LinkedIn, 2019). More so, research from Vodafone found that 1 in 5 18-34-year-olds have quit their jobs due to poor parental leave policies with an additional 25% of 18-34-year-olds stating they decided not to apply for particular jobs due to inadequate parental leave policies (Vodafone, 2022). As the number of 18 – 34-year-olds entering the workforce continues to grow, employers need to adapt their company policies to accommodate their employees’ needs and expectations – especially if they want to avoid the huge costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
According to the Work Institute’s 2020 report on employee retention, the cost of replacing an employee can vary from $15,000 per worker in low-paying jobs to up to 400% of an employee’s annual salary in highly specialized jobs (Work Institute, 2020). In addition to high costs recruitment costs, employee turnover is also associated with a 3-6 month loss in productivity as well as time losses due to recruitment and training of replacements (Le Dosquet-Bergquist, 2017). These recruitment and training costs are much higher compared to the costs of comprehensive postpartum support services to employees.
|Box 1. Paid parental leave and employee retention
In recent years, both Accenture and Google have improved their postpartum support to employees through the expansion of paid parental leaves to new parents. In Accenture, this led to a 40% reduction in the number of new mothers leaving their jobs after childbirth or adoption (Vanderkam, 2016). Google, its expanded parental leave policy increased the retention rate of new mothers by 50% according to YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki (Wojcicki, 2016).
It is estimated that by 2025, 75% of the world’s workforce will consist of millennials. According to a global generational study, 83% of millennials stated they would be more likely to join companies that offered increased flexibility and paid parental leave (WEP, 2020; EY, n.d.). According to research conducted by Vodafone, 55% of 18 – 34 year olds decided against applying for a job due to inadequate parental leave policies offered by the company and an additional 25% did not apply for a job to a perceived lack of support for new parents. More so, 64% of 18 – 34-year-olds used a company’s parental leave policies as an indication of a good employer regardless of their intention to have children (Vodafone, 2022; Caffrey, 2022 ). If employers want to compete for new talent, particularly among millennials and Gen Z’s, they must be able to provide family-friendly working conditions which include postpartum support to new parents as well as family-friendly working environments. Finally to echo the words of IBM’s chief diversity officer, Lindsay-Rae McIntrye “The [business] ROI comes in the form of attracting the best talent in the industry, and in having an engaged workforce”.
- Improves employee morale and productivity
Improving postpartum support for new parents through increased access to paid leave, flexible working arrangements, and other family-friendly workplace policies improves employee morale which leads to more committed employees and boosts productivity within a company. A 2017 Ernst & Young survey of US employers found that 90% of employers with paid family leave policies produced a positive or neutral effect on morale, profitability, and productivity (Ernst & Young, 2017). Furthermore, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found that 78% of new mothers returning from maternity leave were just as committed to work as other employees, according to the majority of the UK employers surveyed (Harkness et. al, 2019). Studies have also shown that workplaces with more family-friendly policies help employees achieve a better work-life balance and are 60% more likely to report above-average financial performance compared to companies without family-friendly policies (Gray, 2002; LinkedIn, 2019). Therefore, by prioritizing employee morale and work-life satisfaction, employees are more likely to be productive and contribute towards a company’s growth and performance.
In conclusion, this report has highlighted the importance of providing postpartum support to new parents in order to improve their job satisfaction, productivity, and morale, and in doing so improve the organization’s performance and productivity. Furthermore, this report highlights the major challenges new parents face in the workplace and the effect these challenges have on employees’ career trajectories and workplace performance with the hopes that companies can use this information to improve their postpartum support for new parents through PostPartum Plan’s services.
Caffrey, C. (2022). Why parental leave policies should be used to attract the best candidates – People in Law. People in Law. https://peopleinlaw.co.uk/why-parental-leave-policies-should-be-used-to-attract-the-best-candidates/
Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2015). Pregnancy and maternity discrimination forces thousands of new mothers out of their jobs | Equality and Human Rights Commission. Equalityhumanrights.com. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/509500/BIS-16-145-pregnancy-and-maternity-related-discrimination-and-disadvantage-summary.pdf
Ernst & Young. (n.d.). Global Generations: A Global Study on Work-Life Challenges Across Generations: Detailed findings. www.ey.com/Publication/vwLU Assets/Global_generations_study/$FILE/EY-global-generations-a-global-study -on-work-life-challenges-across-generations.pdf
Ernst & Young. (2017). Viewpoints on paid family and medical leave. Retrieved from
Gray, H. (2002). Family-Friendly Working: What a Performance! An Analysis of the Relationship Between the Availability of Family-Friendly Policies and Establishment Performance. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/20082/1/Family-Friendly_Working_What_a_Performance%21_An_Analysis_of_the_Relationship_Between_the_Availability_of_Family-Friendly_Policies_and_Establishment_Performance.pdf
Harkness, S., Borkowska, M., & Pelikh, A. (2019). Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840062/Bristol_Final_Report_1610.pdf
ILO (2014). (rep.). Maternity and paternity at work. ILO. Retrieved from
Koru Kids. (2022). It Starts With Paternity Leave. Koru Kids. https://www.korukids.co.uk/blog/paternity-league/
Le Dosquet-Bergquist, D. (2017). Here’s what happens when new parents decide their own parental leave. Medium; Makers. https://blog.makersacademy.com/heres-what-happens-when-new-parents-decide-their-own-parental-leave-6e20afbe7c81
LinkedIn. (2019). (rep.). 2019 Global Talent Trends. LinkedIn. Retrieved from
Maternity Action. (2023, January 30). Maternity and Parental Rights at Work and Benefits for Families – Maternity Action. Maternity Action. https://maternityaction.org.uk/maternity-parental-rights-at-work-and-benefits/
New America. (2019). Paid Family Leave: How Much Time Is Enough? New America. https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/paid-family-leave-how-much-time-enough/economic-impact/
UN Women. (2019, March 8). Press release: As economic uncertainties, exclusionary politics, push-back on civil society, and labour informality rise, UN’s largest meeting on gender equality begins. UN Women – Europe and Central Asia. https://eca.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/03/press-release-csw63
Vanderkam, L. (2016). Why Offering Paid Maternity Leave Is Good For Business. Fast Company; Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/3064070/why-offering-paid-maternity-leave-is-good-for-business
Vodafone. (2022). Lost Connections: Supporting parents and caregivers in the workplace Lost Connections: Supporting parents and caregivers in the workplace. In Vodafone. https://newscentre.vodafone.co.uk/app/uploads/2022/01/Parents-and-Caregivers-Jan-2022.pdf
WEP. (2020). Attracting and Retaining Talent Through Inclusive Family-Friendly Policies. In Women’s Empowerment Principles. https://www.weps.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/WEPs%20GUIDANCE%20%E2%80%A2%20PRIVATE%20SECTOR%20PARENTAL%20LEAVE%20%28FINAL%29.pdf
Wojcicki, S. (2016). Closing the Tech Industry Gender Gap. HuffPost; HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tech-industry-gender-gap_b_9089472?1453912334=&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubmV3YW1lcmljYS5vcmcvYmV0dGVyLWxpZmUtbGFiL3JlcG9ydHMvcGFpZC1mYW1pbHktbGVhdmUtaG93LW11Y2gtdGltZS1lbm91Z2gvZWNvbm9taWMtaW1wYWN0Lw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAHlrGh36TAxtLCCVExj34bZLjzorqkM0ZH4qqNWYyCP86van9JKQv1LaWXofn2KnJ_FuDOkBG3RTcTUYQZ1f0GVoNLa1TcfjBY1-SA9PIlKphKySAN8Ol8MAykB8RGekOzD4uPkN52X_V2MBQBtLSp-roYxuKDkC0CMaCri_Ggla
Work Institute. (2020). (rep.). 2020 Retention Report. Work Institute. Retrieved from