I worked from home today because a colleague who is on maternity brought in her newborn baby. A baby in the office shouldn’t be a big deal, but actually it is a problem for myself and for the many others who have or are facing infertility issues. After years of fertility treatment I have ended up childless. This has led to bouts of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and unfortunately the inability to cope with being around children.
Women who for whatever reason have been unable to bear children suffer with work matters such as:
- Not being allowed to take annual leave during school holidays as their peers who have children need that time off.
- Having to cover for people during maternity leave, when a colleague has a shortened work day/week, or when they are off to care for sick children.
- Being refused time for study leave, sabbaticals etc. as they do not fit the ‘family-friendly policy’.
- Having to take time out themselves for fertility treatment, operations, depression, stress etc. and having to explain that to people.
- Working alongside pregnant women.
- Not being able to join in with parents' or grandparents' conversations about children.
- Having to receive pregnancy announcements, leaving presentations and emails containing baby photos.
One of the toughest challenges that they face is when a newborn baby, toddler or young child is brought into the office.
At my place of work the visits used to be unannounced, frequent and sometimes for extensive hours. Not many people are going to protest about this. Who wants to complain about the cute child being brought in, especially when others are looking forward to it?
Having a baby is a big deal and I understand that motherhood has its own challenges. However, HR departments need to be aware that not all are comfortable with colleagues bringing in their youngsters. Members of my team have told me that they find it a noisy distraction. I feel anxious when children are brought into the office. It is a painful reminder of what I cannot have. In everyday life I can walk away from such situations, but when I am trying to concentrate on my work in an open-plan office I feel trapped, nervous and upset. All I want to do is run away or hide. A few times I have panicked, got up and gone home without informing anyone.
HR came to an agreement with me that parents would have to inform them when they planned on bringing in their children. That way I would be as prepared as I could be without it interrupting my work. It works best when it's around lunchtime and I can go out for a long lunch, but not always. Sometimes I cannot be interrupted from what I am doing. In such cases, surely there should be a duty of care that the employee’s mental health is protected and the work that needs doing is the priority.
The next time a child is in your workplace, look around. Is a man looking away because his partner has just had a miscarriage? Is there a woman with a grimacing smile because she desperately wanted children but it just never happened?
Statistics show that one in six couples fail to conceive, so please consider implementing a ‘children in the workplace’ policy so that this matter is sensitively dealt with and is non-disruptive for all. Even simple things such as restricting children's visits to lunchtimes can help.
Jannine Flynn is a technical services specialist at an HR software company