When telling your boss you're pregnant, you definitely don't want to hear:
Are you going to keep it?
Your position probably won't be here when you get back.
Oh no. Who will I get to fill in for you?
While it'd be great if supervisors were supportive and understanding of a woman's choice to be a working mom, it's sadly not always the case that pregnancy announcements are warmly received in the workplace. These harsh (and real!) responses are especially troubling given new research published in Organization Science. The findings suggest that a boss's positive or negative reaction to an employee's pregnancy can influence her performance on the job.
As Slate.com reports, women are happier and more committed to working if their bosses respond favorably to their pregnancy announcement.
There are countless real-life examples of this, including working mom Sarah Kaufman's story of breaking the news to her boss, as detailed in the Slate piece. As assistant director for technology programming at the NYU’s Rudin Center, Sarah was grateful when her boss replied, "that's fantastic news," because this encouragement made having a family without sacrificing her career a lot easier. Now, four years after the birth of her son, Sarah continues her work at NYU.
Not all women have the luxury of a supportive boss like Sarah's, however. Often, women end up leaving their jobs because of an unhappy boss.
When working mom Emily told her supervisor at a non-profit that she was pregnant, his response was: “So are you going to be coming back or staying home and having a bunch of kids?" Needless to say, Emily eventually left that job.
Of course, women like Emily aren't expecting their bosses to throw them a baby shower or give them a hug when they reveal their pregnancy, but a kind response goes a long way. A simple, "congratulations," may be enough for women to feel emotionally supported and safe in their jobs, and ultimately more likely to remain in them after maternity leave.
The Organization Science study finds that it really is that simple: when bosses respond affirmatively to their employees' pregnancies, they're happy. Happy employees equals more productive work, making it a win-win for pregnant employees and their bosses.
Women, too, can improve the pregnancy conversation with their bosses by coming to the interaction prepared. Clearly articulate the expectations you have for the months leading up to and during your pregnancy, and make sure to have a plan for delegating unfinished work when you're gone. Keeping your manager up-to-date on your pregnancy and informed about any bumps in the road also leads to a better outcome for both parties involved.
It may seem obvious, but when bosses aren't completely upset by the fact that, yes, sometimes female employees get pregnant and go on maternity leave, everyone's lives are better. Being a working mom is a wonderful thing, and if your boss can recognize that, you're both on the way to happier careers.