One in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage – an alarming statistic and often something that people won’t want to talk about at work.
It’s for this reason that some agencies, such as Lucky Generals and Creature, are launching miscarriage policies. They want to remind staff that they can take time off work for their loss and it needn’t be something that they have to keep private because they are likely to be feeling lonely.
"It’s about bringing a taboo subject into the open so that people can talk about it. It's so that, at a traumatic time in people's lives, we can give some certainty to what they can expect from us and that we will take it seriously and support them," Katie Lee, chief executive of Lucky Generals, explains.
"The sooner all agencies start to talk about these subjects, the sooner we move towards gender equality. It is all these small but important behaviours that begin to shift the dial."
Lucky Generals' policy outlines the support that members of the management team can give to women who are experiencing loss at work and encourages employees to take two weeks off as the mother or one week as the partner. Should more time be needed, the policy asks for the person to speak with a manager.
It adds: "Once back at work, we will offer regular reviews to make sure that we are doing all we can to support your return."
For Dan Cullen-Shute, co-founder of Creature, the decision to review the agency's policies and introduce new guidelines for employees facing miscarriage came after this happened to his wife and he realised that it’s a bereavement that no-one talks about.
"If you or your partner have had a miscarriage, the last thing you need is stress about how to handle it with work," he says. "Our hope is that, by making it part of our suite of policies, we'll show everyone who works at Creature that it's a conversation they don't have to worry about – that we understand that miscarriage is a horrible fucking thing and that we'll be here to support them through it."
Treating employees as indivuals
However, not all agencies are convinced that such a policy is needed, but they do make clear that staff are treated as individuals. Rapp UK, for example, says it’s about making sure the right support and inclusive environment are available for employees.
"Everybody’s experience of miscarriage will be different and the key for us is about treating everyone as individuals, but always starting from a place of empathy," head of talent Ursula Marchese says.
Michael Sugden, chief executive of VCCP, agrees, adding that the agency takes every personal issue that an employee is facing on a case-by-case basis. He continues: "We don’t have any official policies for bereavement, because we don’t think you can codify something like grief, as it affects people very differently.
He believes that, by having policies in place, there is a danger that people may think there’s only a set time that they can take off to deal with their grief. "That’s not how [loss] works, so we have to take it as a case by case basis," he says.
"We have to have a culture that is compassionate and approachable. People can feel they can talk to their managers about whatever they are going through."
Quiet Storm’s chief executive and managing partner, Rania Robinson, also doesn’t feel the need to have a specific policy, because the agency is a small business (of 30 staff) that is owner-run and family-based. Robinson says: "People come and talk to us about all sorts of things and we have had a number of staff members tell us about personal things."
However, she does think that a policy is necessary in larger companies because it’s a "less personal" environment. "How comfortable are people going to feel telling senior staff that they are trying to have a child?" she says. "We [as women] worry that we will be overlooked for promotions and I’ve been in places where I’ve not felt safe discussing that information, so a lot of trust is needed in the business."
Robinson adds that in companies that do have a miscarriage policy, it will only work and be implemented correctly if staff receive the "right signals" from line managers: "The trust has got to be deeply ingrained and it’s a long-term investment."
Taking partners into consideration
Grey London is another agency that doesn't have a policy and its chief executive Anna Panczyk adds that it's not just women who need support, their partners should also be considered.
"We’ve started working with Self Space, an organisation that provides access to trained therapists at no cost to staff," she says. "We offer this to everyone, but we particularly encourage people who may need extra support following personal circumstances. Partners of women who’ve suffered a miscarriage also may need ways to come to terms with their loss.
"I feel personally responsible for making sure we don’t exclude men from that process as in many circumstances they’re dealing with huge emotional fallout. We need to make sure that our programs includes them and other family members if needed."
What to include in a miscarriage policy
Social insight agency Listen & Learn, which pulls together research on what people are saying about certain topics on social media, is urging all companies to put in place a miscarriage policy, because many people are unaware that leave for miscarriage is protected in employment legislation.
The research found that one of the most common questions around this topic is whether it is OK to take time off after a miscarriage and what kind of leave it falls under. As a result, the study encourages employers to be proactive by writing it into their employment policies and make clear that it will be treated confidentially.
The Nabs advice line also offers empathetic, non-judgmental and supportive listening and guidance to those in the industry suffering from a miscarriage, as well as to HR teams on how to deal with the issue in the workplace.