Supporting Lactation Accommodations at Work

By law in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, women are allowed to breastfeed in any public or private location. This means in stores, in restaurants, on the street or anywhere where a mother is permitted to be, and legally no one is allowed to tell them to leave or to feed their child in private.

Lactation Policies & Laws

On March 18th, 2019, NYC Council passed two bills in addition to existing  federal and state laws regarding lactation accommodation policies in the workplace. Prior to March 18, employers were mandated to provide employees with a reasonable number of breaks; and a private sanitary space, other than a restroom, with a chair and flat surface on which to place the breast pump and other personal items, to express breast milk during the workday.

The first new bill states that in addition to a chair and flat surface, NYC employers with four or more employees must provide lactation rooms outfitted with an electrical outlet and refrigerators that are within reasonable distance to work areas so that mothers may express and store breast milk during the workday. Under the new law, employers who cannot provide a lactation room because of undue hardship are “required to engage in cooperative dialogue with affected employees to find a reasonable, alternative accommodation.”

The second bill now requires employers to “establish, and distribute to all new employees, policies describing lactation room accommodations, including the process by which an employee can request such accommodation”.

The policy must:
1. Specify how an employee can submit a request for a lactation room.
2. Require the employer to respond to such a request no later than five (5) business days.
3. Provide a procedure for employees to follow when two (2) or more individuals need to use the lactation room at the same time, including the contact information for any follow-up required.
4. State that the employer shall provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk to comply with Section 2016-c .
5. State that if the request for lactation room poses an undue hardship on the employer, the employer shall engage in a cooperative dialogue.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has developed and made available a model lactation room accommodation policy and model request form for employers, which can be found here. You will find model policies  for workplaces with dedicated lactation room(s); with a multi-purpose space, other than a restroom, that may be used as a lactation room; and for workplaces with no available space for a lactation room.

Health insurance plans must provide pregnant and postpartum women with lactation support and counseling from trained health care providers as well as certain breastfeeding equipment, such as breast pumps and nursing supplies, at no additional cost. See HealthCare.gov for more information.

Did You Know:

  • Companies that offer lactation support programs increase post-maternity retention rates by almost 50%
  • Mothers who breastfeed their infants experience 50% less one-day absences from work
  • Companies that provide lactation support programs see an ROI of 300%
  • Health insurance plans must provide pregnant and postpartum women with lactation support and counseling from trained health care providers as well as certain breastfeeding equipment, such as breast pumps and nursing supplies, at no additional cost. See HealthCare.gov for more information.

If you would like to provide corporate lactation support services to your employees as a means to remain compliant with new regulations, attract and retain new mothers, increase employee productivity and ensure employee satisfaction, consider the following programs that may make the lives of breastfeeding moms, easier.  MommaWorkMilkStork and Maven which provide services that support breastfeeding/pumping mothers!

Mental Illness & Its Impact on Employees

Mental Health in the workplace has been a long-time taboo topic of conversation. Historically, there has been a divide between work life and personal life. Employers expect that employees check their personal issues at the front door and an employee perception exists that employers think their workers are robots with no lives outside of work. There is no denying that it is imperative for employees to show up to work ready to contribute, but with mental health issues on the rise, emotional wellbeing and mental health is on the forefront of leaderships’ minds given the impact that it can have on employees and a company’s bottom line.

How You Think is How You Feel

One in five American adults experience mental illness at some point in their life. Eight-teen percent of American adult employees have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and about 7% of American adults have been diagnosed with depression. Many cases of depression go undiagnosed and without treatment making depression the leading cause of disability in America (NAMI, 2019 and The American’s Disability Act National Network, 2018). In fact, antidepressant use has increased from 2011-2014 from 7.7% to 12.7%, respectively, and 25% of those on antidepressants reported using them for 10 or more years (CDC, 2017).

Mental health issues can cause absenteeism, loss of productivity, increased risk of accidents, the inability to think clearly or concentrate, increased risk of impulsive decision making or the need for constant reassurance of ones work. Not only that, but mental illness is also associated with increased risk of chronic morbidities such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as poor behavioral health habits like substance use/abuse, smoking and sub-par dietary choices (National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Council, 2006).

With all of that said, it is clear that poor mental health can negatively impact an organizations culture, but can also lead to increased health care costs. According to Harvard, the literature on mental health problems in the workplace suggests  if more workers who need treatment were able to receive it, the personal toll on individuals and the costs placed one organizations could be reduced. Unfortunately, mental health treatment has become a luxury due to issues of access that are plaguing the mental health system, suggesting that employers begin to think of mental health care as an investment that’s worth the up-front time and cost to save thousands on the back end.

What You Can Do to Overcome Mental Health Barriers

In speaking with several mental health platforms that offer on-demand therapy such as TalkspaceSpringHealth and ModernHealth, same barriers to treatment come up. Awareness, stigma and access. First, people are unaware that there are treatment options available to them. Whether that be lack of awareness that they are struggling, lack of awareness of an existing EAP program or lack of awareness of how to navigate the mental health system. Second, there is a negative stigma placed on mental health, from blame to shame.

There is also fear that employers may consider employees with mental health issues incompetent, unreliable and a real fear of being fired. Third, there is an issue of access to mental health providers, meaning that finding an in-network provider is challenging. The wait time for an appointment could be weeks to months, leaving out-of network providers as an only option which becomes expensive, with out-of-pocket costs anywhere between $150-$250 per session. With all of these barriers interacting with each other, many adult workers who need and would benefit from treatment continue on without it.

Whether an employee experiences mental health issues personally or is the caregiver of someone with mental illness, the impact that both can have should get leaders thinking about what they can do to support their employees mental and emotional wellbeing.

If you’re thinking that supporting the mental health of your employees is valuable, there are a few things you can do:

1. Establish mental health and wellbeing as core assets of your organization by creating a culture that values authenticity and openness and makes employees feel safe, seen and trusted. This starts from the top, down.

2. Include mental health in diversity and inclusion strategies.

3. Support the development of compassionate and effective line management relationships by providing opportunities for managers to attend relevant training to support staff living with mental health problems and the wellbeing of all staff in general.

4. Communicate and market all mental health offerings that are available to employees on a consistent basis so that they have access to tools and resources. This may include an EAP program, on-demand tele-therapy benefits through insurance or an in-network provider list.

5. Consider providing mental health benefits as part of your benefits package through online and on-demand tele-therapy platforms that allow employees access to mental health providers over the telephone, video call or text. This type of benefit removes the barrier of access because appointments can be made more quickly through preferred network providers, is convenient because employees don’t have to physically go to an office or use PTO to attend visits, and reduces insurance claims. If you’re not ready to offer this benefit, many platforms provide direct to consumer services as well.

Many business leaders assume that an employee’s mental health is none of their business and they don’t want to get involved, but the truth is, employers can support their employees by providing tools and resources. Employers offer mental health benefits and emotional wellbeing support can leverage these opportunities for employee recruitment, engagement and retention, as well as for positively impacting their bottomline.

Building a Meaningful Benefits Package

In the current job market, employers are not the only ones doing the interviewing.  While employers vet candidates to ensure that they fit the company culture, values, experience and background, todays workforce is also doing their own interviewing. When candidates apply to positions, they’re seeking out employers that can offer them not just meaningful work, a wage and health insurance, but also other benefits that will make their work experience and lives more positive, more productive and more manageable.

Building the Best Benefits for Your Team

But with so many different options, how does HR know what to include in their benefits package? Of course, there is no one-size fits all strategy. Every employee population is different, with differing wants and needs when it comes to what is important to them. When choosing which benefits to provide to employees, it’s not just about serving up opportunities just to say your company offers them. Taking the time to research the current employee demographic and get a pulse on what is important to them will be time and effort well spent. After all, why pay for a benefit that no one is using? By digging a little deeper into your employee demographic, surveying them, holding focus groups and really listening for feedback, HR can piece together a meaningful benefits package that attracts new talent, retains current talent and encourages and allows employees to be their best selves in the workplace.

Evaluating Your Benefits Options

For employees looking to start a family, now or later, consider fertility benefits:
CarrotCarrot helps employees navigate the confusion of the fertility space. From IVF, to egg freezing and surrogacy, it’s a place to learn about different treatments and figure out the right path to take. It is inclusive, meaning it’s not just for women. The benefit is available to spouses and same sex couples. Through Carrot, treatment does not require an infertility diagnosis.

For new moms, a benefit to help retain breastfeeding mothers:
MilkStork Do you have employees that travel a lot on business trips? Milk Stork helps traveling mothers maintain their commitment to breastfeed by providing them with everything they need to ship their breast milk home quickly and safely.

For your employees who are also caregivers:
Apiari–  Family responsibility is among one of the major sources of stress for US adults. Workplaces are becoming more family friendly and understanding that “life happens”. Without a healthy work/life balance, stress can seep into the workplace and if left unaddressed, the build-up ultimately leads to burnout. Apiari is an inclusive benefit for all employees, regardless of age, gender or what stage of life they’re in. From child care, to elder care to help around the house, Apiari has something for everyone.

HelprEmpower hard-working parents to balance their professional growth with raising a healthy family, leading to increased retention, increased recruitment of millennials and reduced absenteeism.

Wellthy “3/4 of U.S. workers face some caregiving responsibility. 32% of caregivers have left a job because they couldn’t balance work and family duties and 80% say their responsibilities at home keep them from doing their best at work” (Harvard Business School, “ The Caring Company”, 2019). Wellthy is a care concierge providing support and relief to families with complex care.  For families who have a parent with dementia, child with autism, or a spouse with cancer, Wellthy handles the administrative and logistical tasks and helps to find and vet the right in-home aide, manage a move into a facility, contest and negotiate insurance bills, and more.

For employees who want an easier way to stay physically active:
GymPass: Get your employees healthier by helping them find a physical activity they actually enjoy with GymPass, the gym membership benefit that allows employees to try different workout facilities under one chosen membership. From yoga, to cycling, to boxing to bootcamps, Gympass has an activity for everyone regardless of fitness level or experience.  A great option for companies with offices both all over the U.S and around the world.
BurnAlongA great wellness solution for companies with several offices around the nation or globe, BurnAlong creates a sense of community for your workforce by helping your employees (and their family members!) achieve their health and wellness goals through personalized online video classes and programming (1,000+ classes across 30+ categories) and social motivation, all supported by human & machine guidance.

For employees who have student debt, or will have to pay for college at some point:
CommonBond72% of people say student loan benefits would increase commitment to their employer and 78% with student debt would accept a job if the company offered student loan benefits. CommonBond helps employees reach financial freedom by offering customizable student loan benefits to support your employees’ ability to pay for school for themselves or their family.

For employees in need of mental wellbeing and emotional support:
Talkspace–  20% of your employees are experiencing a mental health challenge and 25% of them  are not telling you they’re struggling. Talkspace is a secure, confidential and clinically-proven online therapy platform allowing any employee, anywhere to get the therapy they want and need without traveling to an office – and for significantly less money than traditional therapy so that they can manage their emotional wellbeing, and show up as their best to work every day.

For employees who want and need career coaching: 
Bravely In support of workplace health, Bravely connects employees with professional coaches for confidential conversations in the moments they need it most—and helping HR teams improve engagement and retention. From workplace relationships, uncertainty around role, role performance to general stress, Bravely coaches can elevate your employees performance.

For companies looking for a tool to understand how to help keep employees happy, engaged, and on your side:
TINYpulseMeasure how happy, frustrated, or burnt-out your employees are, and gain real time employee feedback to create a company culture you can be proud of.

Deciding what benefits to offer employees requires time, and effort, but the return on investment  is much greater in the end. These benefits can not only reduce health care claims and costs, but can also boost productivity, reduce absenteeism and improve employee satisfaction and company loyalty.

Supporting Workplace Wellbeing

People Spotlight:  Nadia Eran, People Manager, Talkspace

There has been a lot of conversation around the topic of whether the workplace is responsible for supporting and ensuring the wellbeing of individuals, and while that topic is still up for debate, we spoke with a Human Resources professional who has a unique perspective that provides food for thought.

Meet Nadia Eran, People Manager at Talkspace, a start-up Telehealth company that provides mental health support in the form of on-demand therapy. Nadia received her degree at Teacher’s College in Organizational Psychology and began her career in clinical research and oncology where she spent four years streamlining workflows for the hospital (amongst other things). Soon after, she began working at Retensa, a company focusing on improving employee engagement and retention for its clients. While in this role, Nadia realized that she was missing the dimension of time; she was unable to measure the change and impact that strategies had on employee populations and workplace culture down the line.

Nadia wanted to be in the weeds implementing changes and experiencing the outcomes. She wanted to truly understand a company as a system, learning how pulling one string here might impact one or all parts of an organization. It was this realization that brought Nadia to Talkspace where she began as a team of one in her department. There were barely started projects and few systems in place with no People Operations or Talent Management support. It was a blank canvas where the only constant was [and still is] change.

Nadia’s role has been in managing the employees of Talkspace and she has had to make decisions on everything from L&D and D&I to wellness offerings, believing that the best place to mold individuals is where they work. Why?  “Because one third of our lives are spent at work,” Nadia says “and employers have a unique opportunity to help shape individuals.

If we [an employer] can foster change agents in the workplace, it can translate to other parts of their lives”. The qualities nurtured in the workplace through Talent Management, Performance Management, and L&D can inspire our people to become more in tune with their work, themselves, their families and with their communities. A workplace that focuses on building strong, resilient and healthy leaders can in turn impact the places in which these individuals live, work and play. We had the pleasure of speaking with Nadia to discuss both her unique perspective on the workplace as a space for individual betterment, and about stepping into the start-up space.

Supporting Wellbeing for Everyone:

  1. If we can turn people into engaged, happy and inspired individuals and groups and develop them into the best version of themselves through meaningful work and opportunities for growth, we can foster an individual who can help the people around them succeed and who can mobilize their teams [or entire company] to do amazing things. Building skills, community structures, confidence, and leadership can impact more than just work translate to more than just work. Imagine what those people will look like in their outside lives. It can inspire them to become better mothers, fathers, caretakers, friends and community members, and can influence them to show up to their commitments ready to give 110% effort.
  2. If people expect equity, fairness and support at work, then maybe they will begin to expect it in their homes, in their communities and from their government. As an employer, we can create new-norms for people.
  3. The ultimate intent of People Operations or HR is to be a 2-way partnership. Nadia’s job is to make sure all levels of the organization have what they need to feel confident to ask a great question that can spur a new product, or to make a mistake that helps cultivate a space for learning and experimentation.
  4. How people feel when they first begin with a company impacts whether they remain in the company. Paying particular attention to your companies onboarding and performance management process is one piece of the puzzle. Onboarding helps new hires acclimate to the culture and ramp up their understanding of how the role is important to mission of the company. Performance management helps employees set aligned goals to the roadmap, keeping everyone on track and accountable to their deliverables.

Additional Tips from Nadia When Starting a New Role:

  1. Establish Your “Why”. An important aspect of the start-up world is to remember that the pace is faster than in other types of business, making it important to keep yourself accountable. For those in the start-up space, Nadia suggests establishing the ‘why’ of your role to keep yourself motivated and laser focused through the ambiguous, day-to-day challenges of competing priorities and gray layered ambiguity inherent in all start-ups.
  2. Slow down to speed up. If you are moving a million miles a minute you don’t realize the mistakes, or the impact those mistakes can have. It becomes harder to connect dots when you’re always moving so quickly. Take time to get to know the people on your team, take the time to listen to a webinar or go to a training. The start-up space is like an ocean. You feel the motion of the current and you want to keep up with the waves but if you don’t have the right systems in place, big mistakes can happen.
  3. Make connections with other start up leaders to gain perspective. It’s so easy to be in your own head or system and a third party or network of people you can trust to bounce ideas off of comes in handy.
  4. Use yourself as a barometer. When you walk into a system (team, company or culture), whatever it is that you’re feeling or comes up for you when you walk through the door may be what is actually happening. Pay attention to those signals. Others [clients, candidates, etc.] are most likely feeling it too. But once you’re in that system, after a while you become used to it and you stop asking questions, it just becomes the norm. Recognize the power that your new-ness holds and utilize this valuable time to disrupt, investigate, to collect data trends and patterns. Put those observations into your roadmap as areas to address. Everyone has this power when you start a new role to pause, take notes and ask questions. Do people feel included or not? Does leadership meet employees’ expectations?” You have an advantage of coming in with fresh eyes.

Nadia believes that if you build strategies and systems that make work more inspiring and productive by creating an experience, that this is key to moving, developing, and transforming your workforce. Ultimately this positively impacts companies, communities and families.

Mitigating Employee Burnout

Employee burnout is becoming an increasing issue for employers because it can cost companies substantial amounts of money in PTO, health claims, and productivity. Burn out is when an employee is physically, mentally, and emotionally drained within the work place. Being able to understand what burnout is, the signs, its causes, and how to prevent or mitigate the effects of burnout is important for employers in order to maintain a positive work culture.

A recent Gallup study of almost 7,500 full-time employees found that about two thirds of workers experienced burnout syndrome in some capacity. Employees who are burned out are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room. They are also 2.6 times more likely to be seeking new jobs and more likely to express frustration that managing life outside of work, ie. family responsibilities, is challenging.

Exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency are three signs of burnout. When these three things occur together in one individual, severe burnout occurs.  There are several factors that can contribute to employee burnout including work-related factors, personal-life factors and personality factors but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus only on a few major work-related factors.

Work Overload. Too much work for one person and not enough time in the work day or work week to complete it. This can cause “mental quicksand” which is when poor performance causes individuals to feel overwhelmed leading to further poor performance and maybe even damage to confidence. High-performing employees can quickly shift from positive, half-glass-full employees to hopeless as they become bogged down by an unmanageable workload.

Role Ambiguity. A vague job description and lack of clarity on what is actually expected on a day-to-day basis can cause burn out. According to Gallups’ recent State of the American Workplace report, only 60% of workers strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When expectations are a constantly moving target, employees can become exhausted and frustrated trying to figure out what leadership wants from them.

Lack of Resources. No training or lack of role-specific training and/or inadequate resources to perform a job correctly can cause confusion, exhaustion and burnout
Lack of Social Support. Ignoring employees, not saying hello or asking them how they are can make employees feel isolated or ostracized.

Lack of Feedback.
If you’re not giving feedback to employees, both positive and constructive, they will never know if they are doing their job well or where they can improve. A negligent manager leaves employees feeling uninformed and confused.

Lack of work-life balance.  Employees being so overworked that they are taking work home and answering emails or calls when they are technically off the clock can cause burnout. Too large of a workload or managerial expectations that employees be accessible 24/7 can take time away from family commitments, making employees feel like they never get a break.

Little Participation in Decision Making. Not including employees in any level of decision making, even as small as to where the morning meetings bagels and coffee will be from can make employees feel like they don’t have control over anything. It can leave them feeling helpless and micromanaged.

What You Can Do To Mitigate Burnout:

1. Ensure employees have reasonable workloads and realistic deadlines. When a workload is out of control, employees look to their managers to be their advocates for what they can and can’t accomplish.

2. Provide appropriate resources. This includes making sure employees have access to the tools, resources, and technologies needed to do their jobs well.

3. Draw boundaries and lead by example. As a manager, director or leader, employees are often following suit when it comes to responding to calls or emails outside of the traditional work hours. Employees, especially new, motivated employees looking to make a good impression and prove their competency may tend to do this. Make it known to employees that responding to emails after work hours, unless in emergency situations, is not expected even if you do it.

4. Provide Feedback. Let employees know how they are doing on a regular basis. Acknowledge them when you are present in the office and support them when they come to you with questions or concerns.

5. Discuss responsibilities and performance goals. Connect with employees to clearly outline job expectations and goals. Allow room for autonomy and trust employees to work on tasks for as often as they’d like and as long as they’d like, with opportunities to work on passion projects on the side of main duties.

Employee burnout is detectable, repairable and can be avoided or mitigated by appropriate leadership actions.  Burnout  is influenced by social, organizational and individual personality factors and the relationship of the individual with their work can be disrupted by any one, or a combination of such factors.