The news of a pregnancy should be joyful, but it can also cause panic among business owners who worry about how the new bundle of joy will impact the company's operations. Now, imagine if one fifth of your company was pregnant.
This was the situation faced by Affect, a New York City public relations and marketing firm. With a staff of 20 full-time employees, owner Sandra Fathi found her company faced with a baby boom when four staff members became pregnant in the last 12 months. The company's workforce is made up primarily of young female professionals, driving up the odds of having multiple executives in need of time off to build their families.
"Three out of the four were key employees," says Fathi. "Two are vice presidents and one is a director."
Navigating the baby boom provided some key lessons for Affect. Here, they shared their top four learnings:
Plan workflow. Since three of Affect’s pregnant employees were senior staff members who managed multiple accounts and had a great deal of responsibilities, planning how to offset workload, how to manage when the women were out of the office on maternity leave and what to do if they had difficult pregnancies was crucial to the company's success in navigating these changes. Planning ahead not only helped ensure the company would continue running smoothly, but gave moms-to-be assurance that their work duties would be covered.
"When you work at a smaller business, there's a certain amount of stress that you feel because you don't want to burden other team members with your work and [you wonder] what will my role be when I come back," says Katie Creaser, a vice president at Affect, who recently gave birth to a baby boy. Affect developed a six-month-from-due-date plan, a three-month plan and a 30-day plan and also had scheduled check-ins during the maternity leaves. "I always felt confident that my work was covered and that when I returned I would be able to take back the projects and the clients that made me excited about doing my job," says Creaser.
Develop a Culture of Teamwork. Affect works on projects in teams of at least three people, a structure which proved critical to the company's success during the baby boom. "When one person was out, there were still two other people who had relationships [with the client], had the historical knowledge and were able to do the work," says Fathi. Although the balance of work shifted, the company's teamwork culture meant the business wasn't paralyzed by the maternity leaves.
Examine policies. In Affect's 11 years of business, this was the first time the company was faced with employee pregnancies. Although Fathi herself had had a baby three years into the company, as the owner she simply made up her own rules. With a baby boom in the office, Fathi recognized she would now have to create policies to support her pregnant employees. She updated her company's short-term disability policy to provide employees with two-and-a-half times the minimum payment allowed by the state to alleviate their financial fears. She also altered the company's maternity policy to allow individuals who had been with the organization longer more paid time off (two to six weeks, depending on how long they'd been with the company). They also added a paternity-leave policy to allow for the option of an employee who adopts a child to have the same maternity-leave benefits.
Fathi says maternity policies are something small companies don't think about enough until they're forced to. "I don't think they're typically prepared when an employee comes to them and says they're pregnant," she says. "[Small business owners are] not equipped to have the conversation around what the employee's rights are and what the company can do for them." Making employees feel comfortable about their position in the company during this important time in their lives was crucial for Fathi, as she'd seen too many women nervous about how their pregnancies would impact their career opportunities and their roles within the organizations and didn't want to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in her business.
Prioritize work-life balance. Affect's baby boom created a cultural shift in favor of greater work-life balance. New moms were now faced with greater demands on their personal time, meaning late-night events and long commute times that took away from family time were a key concern. The company makes a concerted effort to allow employees to work from home when needed and tries to make accommodations around work hours and late nights.
"Knowing that I'm able to work from home one day a week or more shows me that the company understands that my son is a priority for me, and it's really helped in terms of making me feel I have more control," says Creaser.