About twenty years ago, my company put me in charge of a major project. The project was previously mismanaged, and I was asked to turn it around. I formed a leadership team, developed a project plan, and received senior management budgetary approval to implement. My team worked long and hard, especially during the initial project approval phase.
I received a phone call one afternoon from one of my project managers. She was a bright and talented woman in her thirties. I respected her for her technical competencies and trusted her recommendations. She had a positive attitude, even when faced with daunting tasks or internal resistance to her ideas. I knew that she was a Christian since she previously told me about her activities at a non-denominational church. I was pleased to have her on my team.
Her phone call was not about work. She called to tell me that her pregnancy had suddenly gone wrong, and her baby’s heartbeat stopped. Her doctor needed to induce labor. She was going to the hospital and would be there for several days. I knew how badly she wanted this baby and I told her how grieved I was for her and that I would support her. I told her not to worry about the project and to take all the time she needed to heal. My prayers would be with her and her family.
Several weeks went by and she returned to work. She walked into my office and shut the door. Tears rolled down her face as she talked about the grief over losing her first child. The pregnancy had somehow gone wrong, and the doctors said that she could get pregnant again. I just let her talk and grieve. I asked if she needed more time off and she declined, stating that her work helped her to heal. Over time, we had several other chats and her positive attitude returned. After a year, she became pregnant and delivered a healthy baby which she brought to the office beaming with pride. I was overjoyed and thankful for new life after her dark period.
How do companies handle fertility issues in the workplace? Many companies have maternity policies, and most governments protect women in the workplace who decide to become pregnant. But what about miscarriages or late pregnancy deaths as this one within my team? Each case is different, but fertility issues do impact employees and employers. These life events are deeply personal. Some choose to remain quiet and grieve outside of the workplace. Other bravely inform their employers hoping for compassion and understanding. The reality of these life events is that an employee’s productivity may suffer. Without some direct communication to the employer, the employee may suffer unintended consequences.
A manager must balance work productivity and an employee’s mental and physical health issues. This balancing may result in work being reallocated, adding temporary staffing, or other resourcing solutions. Flexibility needs to be given to the grieving employee which may include time off, reduced hours, or alternate work locations. Each situation requires individualized solutions as not one size fits all.
Before a life event happens, a manager must develop a trust relationship with his or her team members. Employees must feel that their issues will be heard, respected, and responded to appropriately. I did not communicate with anyone within my organization about her pregnancy issues. Personal information is not to be used against the employee. I left communication decisions to her and was able to quietly find workarounds. Her staff pitched in during her time out of the office.
Some will argue that fertility issues have no place in the workplace. I disagree. I view employees as human beings, not robots. Work may begin during the teenage years and possibly continue into old age. Each phase of life has its special circumstances. Domestic pressures are carried into the workplace, whether employers like it or not. During their extended period of employment, even the best employees have personal issues that require flexibility. How employers deal with personal issues defines the work culture. If an employer shows compassion and understanding, most employees will want to stay and support other workers when they succumb to life issues, such as I managed.
Jesus was born into a Roman world where his parents were ordered to travel to Bethlehem to register. Roman authorities did not let Mary stay home. She traveled from Nazareth during a late-stage pregnancy. Upon arrival, there was no room to be found. But someone had compassion and found her lodging despite the overcrowding. Instead of quoting human resource policies, managers should remember our common humanity.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (13:13, NSRV) Showing love to the grieving starts the healing. It takes time, but with compassionate support, healing can happen. Christians are called to love their neighbors and heal the afflicted at work and home. It begins by showing compassion and understanding.