World prematurity day is a global day to raise awareness of the 1 in 10 babies born worldwide prematurely. That accounts for 15 million births each year, so it is more common than you think. The birth of a baby is a significant event for anyone. If baby arrives earlier than expected it can be life-changing.
I was mum of a baby born at 23 weeks. My son underwent 5 surgical operations, 2 of them life-saving. He then spent 6 months in hospital before being able to come home. So I can speak from experience!
How can you as an employer make a difference?
The more flexibility, support, and understanding you can show to parents of premature babies, the less they have to worry about.
You can help your employees in various ways:
- Mum is on maternity leave but may be spending a lot of that time in hospital. I lost half my maternity leave this way. My employer offered me extra unpaid leave when the maternity leave was over. That was invaluable.
- Mums of premature babies are twice as likely to suffer from postnatal depression, so may need extra time and support.
- Don’t forget Dad! Research shows that the mental health of dads of premature babies suffers too. Dad may be juggling normal family life with caring for his wife or partner and other siblings. Be understanding. He may also want extra flexibility in working patterns to visit baby in hospital.
Also, bear in mind that he may want to postpone paternity leave until baby actually comes home.
Baby can often be in a hospital away from home. Added travel, accommodation and childcare costs for siblings can become a real strain for parents.
Changes to employment conditions
Can you offer any of the following?
- Flexible working hours
- TOIL (Time off in lieu)
- Unpaid leave
- The ability to work from home
Or can you offer a combination of these?
If the worst happens and your team members are unable to bring baby home, you could :
- review your compassionate or bereavement leave policies
- offer extended unpaid leave
- explore other sickness absence leave options
The new statutory bereavement leave is being debated in Parliament. It’s worrying that it is up for debate at all – but the law will change going forward.
Also, bear in mind the impact of hospital visits and emergency care for siblings on other family members. You don’t want your business to suffer in any way, but as an employer, you also have a duty of care to your staff.
Discuss the options with your employee. Any employment changes are likely to be temporary but will go a long way to alleviating pressure and stress for them. This will benefit you in the long run.
Showing compassion and flexibility at difficult, life-changing times in employees’ lives is a sign of a great employer. It doesn’t have to be to
the detriment of your business.
Be that understanding employer. Send a very positive message that you care about your team. In return, they will care about doing the very best they can for your business when life settles down again.
You cannot plan for a premature birth. Do not underestimate the shock, stress, and often significant medical challenges involved.
Whatever you can do to help at this difficult time cannot be underestimated. Work with your staff to help them through.
For further information about World Prematurity Day and how to help raise awareness visit:
If you need guidance on flexible working, employment law around parental leave, or any other people issues, please get in touch.