What type of support can employers give to expectant parents?

Need to know:

  • Employers used to say goodbye to expectant mothers and welcome them back at the end of their maternity leave. But times are changing. Support for expectant parents is becoming more inclusive and comprehensive, thanks to the realisation that it benefits diversity and inclusion, productivity and retention in organisations, as well as the impact of the pandemic on existing support.
  • From more inclusive parental leave to digital support, employers are finding creative new ways to support their employees.
  • There are also great, free resources available which employers can point their people towards.

There are no words to describe the utter life transformation that is having a baby. Suddenly, you are catapulted into a topsy-turvy world where you must feed and care for a baby on minimal sleep.

The pandemic has made what was already a big adjustment much harder. New mothers may have had to give birth and recover with limited support. Undoubtedly, new parents will be missing the snatched hour of sleep, the home-cooked meal or the company that friends and family can provide in the early days.

In the past, the experience of becoming a new parent was mostly seen as outside the employer’s domain. At best, women going on maternity leave might have expected a send-off in the office. But times are changing.

Now, 24% of Willis Towers Watson clients responding to its 2021 Emerging trends in health care delivery survey, say they have introduced some form of benefit to support new and expectant parents. Another 17% are considering introducing more support, says Lucie McGrath, director, health and benefits GB at Willis Towers Watson.

Why? Employers are aware that services and support which would have been a given pre-pandemic are no longer on offer. From scans to health visits, the NHS has understandably scaled back its services to the bare minimum. McGrath adds: “It has put a different focus on how employers are looking at supporting new and expectant parents.”

Employers see the business benefits of supporting new parents. “We see this as a major part of talent attraction and retention,” says Jonni Learoyd, head of HR operations EMEA at PR firm Edelman.

The productivity gains are also clear. “It is all very well for employers to accommodate things like flexible working, but if [an employee] isn’t sleeping, [they] are exhausted. [Employers] are starting to look at people through this more holistic lens and seeing that if [they] really want to support employees, [they] have to support all areas of their life,” explains Max Landry, co-founder of Peppy, a start-up which helps new and expecting parents to access advice and support from perinatal and health experts.

So, what sorts of help are on offer?

Broader parental leave

The leave that employers offer to new parents is the classic pillar of support, and this area is evolving fast. With the advent of shared parental leave, some organisations are taking the opportunity to create greater gender parity.

This is a clear win from a diversity and inclusion perspective, as well as for parents. As Gemma Wise, head of people at Ogilvy UK, points out: “Giving equal parental leave will reduce discrimination against women of childbearing age, full-time dads and bring more equality to the workplace. But, most importantly, it allows for the parents to decide how they want to share responsibilities.”

Aliya Vigor-Robertson, co-founder of JourneyHR, agrees. She adds: “I am seeing some wonderful examples in very big organisations where there is total transparency, and they give the same amount of maternity or paternity leave. I would love and encourage more businesses to look at creating a fairer process for working dads to be present. Two weeks is not enough.”

Learoyd has made parental leave fairer at Edelman. “For me it was about levelling the playing field. Having one standard offering for employees worked for the business. It doesn’t matter if [they] are taking maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Everyone who has worked for Edelman for a year is entitled to five months’ fully paid leave when they start a family, whatever their circumstances,” he says.

For employers that want to get rid of the still all-too-common heteronormative stereotypes in their parental leave policies, Learoyd advises: “It is about breaking away from the norms in terms of policy and wording to reflect society in all its forms, apply gender neutrality and be forward thinking. It is actually easy to do, but it is about getting buy-in from the organisation. Policies can be really dry, so it is about normalising the language, engaging with employees, making them relatable, easy to understand and removing complicated jargon.”

The digital route

Even before the pandemic, it could be difficult to access specialist support in areas like sleep, breastfeeding or recovering from birth. Exhausted new parents frequently pay hundreds of pounds to access consultants. Organisations like Peppy are making this support more accessible through employee benefits programmes.

New parents can talk to an expert via a chat function on their phone. “This is a real person, not a chatbot,” Peppy’s Landry stresses. The expert will be able to reassure and point new parents towards information, or refer them on to specialist services, where necessary.

Mothers who gave birth pre-pandemic may fondly remember going to pregnancy yoga classes. Now digital offerings have sprung up, like the YogiBirth app, which offers yoga, meditation and childbirth education classes.

Connecting with others

It’s often comforting for new parents to connect with each other and employers are finding creative ways to make it possible. “We reimburse people who want to do NCT classes,” says Lara Nicoll, diversity and inclusion manager at Ford of Britain. Ford will also try to connect employees who are expecting babies.

Vigor-Robertson is seeing her clients creating parenthood groups within their organisations. “Every new parent needs lots of tips, ideas and objective opinions without any judgement. Having people they know already as part of the group, who are already working parents, can be a great way to support and connect them.”


“We are seeing more and more businesses offering mothers coaching ahead of leaving to take their maternity leave and coming back and helping them transition back into work,” says Vigor-Robertson. Having stepped away, many new mothers struggle with confidence when they come back to work, she adds.

Coaching can also help women to find a new equilibrium, when they have often been strongly career-focused before becoming mothers and must now balance that with a new identity and priorities. Other topics coaching can cover are guilt, the practicalities of managing the juggle, whether to work part-time or full time and settling a child into nursery.

Flexible working

When parents get back to work, juggling the nursery run with work can be a shock to the system. Flexible working has become the norm in the pandemic, but many employers Employee Benefits spoke to for this article were already trusting employees to use their discretion.

“Flexible working used to be seen as something which was only requested by mums; fast forward to today and as an agency we all at Ogilvy have the choice to work core hours between 10-4pm, flexing either side, meaning all parents can do the school runs, carers can fulfil their caring responsibilities without having to ‘apply’ for a formal flexible work request or ‘ask permission’ from their manager,” says Wise.

Modern life is incredibly busy, with more expected of modern parents than ever before. Trusting and supporting expectant parents will help them to make the transition into parenthood smoothly, foster loyalty, improve productivity, and lead to a more diverse workforce. What’s not to like?