Should employers be preparing for a baby boom?
There have been many mixed reports on the baby boom – or baby bust – situation in the UK. Naturally, as Covid-19 has shaken up people’s personal lives and careers since the start of 2020, the environment for growing a family has changed dramatically.
At the start of the pandemic, the UK saw a sharp drop in pregnancy and birth rates. Unsurprisingly, economic instability, job losses, and health concerns made many people reconsider their plans to have a child. One survey in April 2020 found that 58% of people who had planned to have a child in January 2021 (nine months later) had decided to postpone pregnancy, while a further 19% had abandoned plans altogether.
Unplanned pregnancies (which account for 1/3 of pregnancies in the UK) were also thought to have contributed to the drop in pregnancies, which may be in part because of social distancing measures. Studies show 45% of people who dated before the pandemic have stopped dating completely between March 2020 and January 2021.
Despite this initial ‘baby bust’ that was predicted to continue into 2021, recent research suggests that the tide is turning and we are in fact at the start of a baby boom this summer.
Why are we having a baby boom?
As conditions become more stable in the UK, it looks like growing a family is back on the table again. In fact, maternal foetal medicine director at Michigan Medicine Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, Molly Stout, M.D., MSci, suggested that a “dramatic rebound” is to be expected.
“Birth rates declined early on in the pandemic, but we expect a dramatic rebound soon.”
– Molly Stout, Associate Professor, Michigan Medicine Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital
History shows us that after a tragic global event, such as the second world war, Princess Diana’s death and the tsunami in Thailand (2004), nine months later there is often a surge in birth rates.
Besides this, many of the obstacles to parenthood brought about by the pandemic are now being removed. This includes the employment rate, which has shot back up to pre-pandemic levels now the UK is opening back up, and the vaccine rollout alleviating health concerns. Worries of putting a strain on the already fraught NHS, and that pregnant parents had to go to prenatal appointments unaccompanied, has also been lifted. Wedding bells are ringing, people are dating once more, and the pitter patter of tiny feet is coming around the corner…
So what does this mean to employers and HR professionals?
Of course, we’re not just talking about the baby boom for fun. This will have a big impact on employers who will need to manage their teams carefully in the coming year. Employees needing time off to attend appointments, manage their health, and of course take parental leave, can have a strain on your team if you don’t prepare.
Brush up on legislation
The pandemic has impacted many things, and that includes the rights of workers and various types of leave. Make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest legislation so that you’re not caught off guard. You can see the latest payroll legislation you need to know here, and the changes to employment law here.
Communicate your parental leave policies
Whether it’s maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave, or shared parental leave, it’s important that your policies are clear and easy to find for your staff. Having them in a central place and and making sure staff know where to find them is an essential first step in supporting your team.
Incidentally, does everyone in your organisation know they can request shared parental leave? This can help share the responsibilities across both parents and may make things easier for them.
Develop your team
Can your current departments handle their responsibilities if someone is off for 6 months? What about if two people are off? Now is the time to consider any gaps in your team that you might want to fill and start a push for recruitment. Alternatively, it could be a good time to initiate some internal training amongst team members so that multiple people can handle essential tasks if someone does need to take time off.
Prepare a great offboarding and onboarding experience
In our Women’s Day video, our colleagues advised employers to carefully manage the transition for people going on parental leave. Clear communication is key at this point, and we recommend a scheduled and detailed handover before the person takes leave and when they return to benefit both them and the wider team. Check-in days are important for keeping your colleague in the loop of any new developments and make easing back into their role much smoother.
Be mindful of discrimination
Often when taking leave, employees may be overlooked for certain responsibilities and progression or training opportunities that come about, simply because they are not at the office to voice their interest. This can adversely impact women, who still take on the majority of caregiving responsibilities. So as employers, you need to make sure you treat all of your employees fairly, regardless of leave, so that everyone has equal opportunity for career progression.
Make it social
An often overlooked part of taking parental leave is that the parent can be isolated from the social side of working life. A new parent, or even a second or third-time parent, can suddenly be thrust into a routine where they have little interaction with friends day-to-day, which can be difficult to adjust to.
It will be very much appreciated if you and your team make extra effort to keep in touch with your co-worker taking leave, and continue to invite them to any social events you might have as a company – even if you think they might not want to join. Take it from us, even if you don’t want to come, it’s always nice to be invited!