Working on engagement and retention? Don't leave nursing mothers behind
"If someone's having a horrific experience, you could lose them," one expert said.
Goldman Sachs announced in August that it would pay for mothers to ship breast milk to their homes when they traveled for work. That's a win for moms at Goldman, but many working, nursing mothers don't even have a sanitary place to pump.
"Goldman Sachs just came out with this policy — it gets a lot of ink. That's great for companies who can afford that," Jessica Shortall, author of Work. Pump. Repeat., told HR Dive. "What matters to me is seeing a policy enforced across the board. I'm happy those workers are getting that, but to me those basics being put in place is so important and can have such an impact on morale."
A mother who frequently speaks to companies about how to better serve new mothers, Shortall added that businesses have three good reasons to want this, too: recruitment, engagement and retention. "If someone's having a horrific experience, you could lose them," Shortall said.
What does the law require?
On a national level, the Fair Labor Standards Act has required employers to provide non-exempt employees reasonable break time to express breast milk for one year after a child's birth since 2010. Employers must also designate a space where employees can pump, and a bathroom doesn't count. These employees must have access to an area that fully obscures them from view. Employers do not have to pay nursing mothers for these breaks, but if an employee uses her paid breaks to pump, the employer must still compensate that time. The law does stipulate that when an employer with fewer than 50 employees demonstrates that "compliance with this law would impose an undue hardship on the employer, that employer does not have to provide nursing breaks."
Of course, a host of state laws give workers different sets of rights and protections surrounding pumping in the workplace.
Why go beyond what's mandated?
The law does not require employers to provide lactation space and breaks for exempt employees. But when employers show support to breastfeeding employees, they can expect big rewards. "The return on investment is you retain employees and you have happier employees," said Christine Dodson, founder of lactation pod manufacturer Mamava. The business world has entered an era in which employees can call the shots. If a new mom struggles to keep up her milk supply because her employer won't provide a space for her to express milk or her colleagues roll their eyes because she steps away from her desk every couple hours to pump, she can defect to a new job pretty quickly, recent trends suggest.
"There's a new wave of millennial moms who have expectations that are very different than [those of] my generation. It's an expectation in the workplace" to be able to pump, Dodson told HR Dive in an interview. "There's an awareness of the law and it's a part of the benefit that's expected at a company. You're going to be supported in not only the leave you take when you have a baby but also when you come back to work."
But this isn't the reality at many companies. When the hashtag #IPumpedHere gained popularity on Twitter and Instagram in August 2017, professional women started posting photos of dingy supply closets, sweltering cars and, yes, bathroom stalls where they had resigned to pump when no other space was available. Even moms who work for major corporations run into this problem. Just three months ago, Thrive Global Founder and CEO Arianna Huffington lamented on social media that Apple had failed to make a room available at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, which meant Thrive Global Chief Product Officer Yardley Ip Pohl, Huffington's colleague, had to pump in a car.
Most #IPumpedHere posts won't reach thousands of viewers like Huffington's complaint about Apple did, but companies can expect that candidates will snoop around social media and other websites to glean what they can about potential employers. A CareerArc poll found that just one in five applicants considers working for employers with a one-star rating online, and women are 33% less likely than men to apply to jobs with bad reviews online.
"There's a lot of judgment around breastfeeding — normalizing it in the workplace can be the make-or-break for a mom considering to come back to work," said Jenna Heisterkamp, director of operations at DayOne Baby, a lactation and early parenting consulting firm.
How can employers support nursing employees?
When company leaders decide to take action and make their businesses inclusive to breastfeeding workers, they have many options to consider. Like Shortall said, however, nothing is more important than getting the basics right and enforcing a lactation policy consistently.
Set up a lactation space
Most companies aren't out to make life miserable for colleagues who nurse. "A lot of companies want to set up a comfortable lactation room, but don't know where to start," Heisterkamp said. There's good news for employers fretting about taking on this challenge: it doesn't take much to set up a nice area. Heisterkamp's list of recommendations is short:
- A comfortable chair.
- A door that locks.
- An outlet.
- A table big enough for a pump and a laptop.
This room must exist for nursing employees and nursing employees alone. It's not cool if the sales team sneaks in for a quick huddle and a mother is left waiting to pump. Those needing to express milk should not have to compete with someone who wants to charge a cell phone, make a private call or take a nap, Dodson said.
Companies can also rent hospital-grade breast pumps for their employees, Heisterkamp told HR Dive in an interview. "HR people come to us and say, 'You know, all the moms are coming asking for hospital-grade breast pumps. They all bring their own, so why do we need to get one?'" she said. Companies that provide hospital-grade pumps will not only free mothers from the task of lugging their personal pumps and supplies to and from work, but they will also assist mothers in their breastfeeding routine, since the machines are stronger, more durable and more efficient than a regular pump.
The bill for a lactation space can add up quickly, but businesses can show a lot of care and support for new mothers through "simple touches," Heisterkamp said. "Try to have more empathy for the mom. Ask them if there's anything you can do to make their transition back to work easier," she said. "Sometimes when you think it's a small thing, it means the world to the new mom."
If companies can't set up a room for lack of space or other constraints, they can import free-standing spaces for pumping through companies like Mamava and DayOne Baby. Businesses like Amazon, Ben & Jerry's, Intel, Toyota Manufacturing and Walmart sport Mamava's lactation pods, while names like Airbnb, Microsoft, Netflix, Pinterest and SurveyMonkey work with DayOne Baby.
Business leaders can't just set up an area for mothers to pump and call it a job well done, however. A company could deck out its lactation room with state-of-the-art pumps, squashy armchairs and breastmilk-fortifying snacks galore, but a new mother could still endure a terrible experience that leaves her thinking about calling it quits if leadership doesn't equip her and her colleagues with the right information and expectations.
Make (and communicate!) a lactation policy
When a company unveils a lactation space in the workplace, it should also introduce lactation policies. This can communicate to mothers, their coworkers and their bosses that nursing mothers can take time throughout the day to pump in the place that has been designated for them, Dodson said. Such a policy would, ideally, set up a system through which employees can communicate any problems they face throughout their season pumping at work. "Having a true method for workers to flag problems to HR that will actually be responded to is really important," Shortall said.
A policy is important, but it is not as critical to the success of working, nursing mothers as a good manager who has been educated about breastfeeding, according to Shortall.
"What I experienced is you can have a company with the worst policy in the world and a great manager and everything is fine," she said. "But you can have a company with the best policy in the world and a crappy manager makes it terrible."
Educate and train
If a business incorporates accommodations for nursing mothers, managers need to be trained about why those accommodations exist and how employees can use them. Without that training and education, managers may make some big mistakes in their treatment of nursing employees. "There's still a ton of education that needs to happen in the workplace with the leadership, with HR," Dodson said. "The culture companies are perpetuating around breastfeeding — women are still made to feel that they're getting a special accommodation, that they're getting too much. The education piece just needs to be talked about more."
Managers should know, for example, that new moms coming back to work will be extremely concerned that their milk supply will dry up, according to Heisterkamp. "If you aren't able to express milk routinely, it can be very painful and your body will stop producing it," she said. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend infants consume only breast milk for their first six months.
Institute support groups
Another measure companies can take to support breastfeeding employees is completely free. As Shortall visited businesses to speak to employees about breastfeeding in the workplace, she realized that after each speech she gave, a few people would begin to chat as they lingered behind to speak with her. Frequently, Shortall said, women would realize that someone else in the office was going through the same challenges they faced as they came back to work after having a baby. "What I have found is that many new parents rely on each other rather than formalized support," Shortall said. Company leaders can organize support groups within their offices for new parents, and they can even ask employees who have older children to be in the group as mentors.
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