My lived experience: working flexibly whilst pregnant

Working while pregnant

Stacy Penn, Senior Policy Adviser at AMI, is about to go on maternity leave with her first child. Here, she discusses her experience of working flexibly whilst pregnant, and the benefits to both phyiscal and mental health.

I sit here writing this during my last week of work before I start my maternity leave. As a first-time parent the last nine months have been filled with a raft of emotions, from joy and excitement to anxiety and worry.

I’ve been lucky enough to work for an employer that embraces flexible working. I strongly believe this has helped me continue to work productively, as well as benefitting both my physical and mental health and that of my unborn baby.

For me flexible working is about being trusted to get the job done. When I interviewed for the role at AMI back in 2019 it was refreshing to hear AMI Chief Executive Robert Sinclair live and breathe this ethos – I distinctly recall his response to my question about whether flexible hours were possible as “I don’t give a monkeys where and when you work, as long as the work gets done!”. Having previously worked for an employer where working times and locations were more rigid, this was music to my ears.

The benefits of working flexibly whilst pregnant

Naturally there have been times during my pregnancy where I haven’t felt great, and being able to work from home has allowed me to work around this. I distinctly remember a virtual meeting during my first trimester, held during a time where I was suffering from painful bloating and indigestion. I didn’t want to miss the meeting, as it was an opportunity to share my views on a key project that I was running, yet it was incredibly reassuring to know that, if I wanted to, I could turn off my camera or put myself on mute when I wasn’t speaking. It also meant I could take ten minutes out afterwards to try and relieve some of the symptoms (cue the ‘downward dog’ yoga move!). I couldn’t imagine doing any of this if I was working from a more formal office environment. In fact, if there wasn’t an option to attend the meeting virtually, I probably would have had to make my apologies.

There have been other times where I’ve needed to log-off, lie down and log back on later when I’m feeling more refreshed and focused. Or, on some days, have needed to start earlier as by 4pm exhaustion kicks in. No one’s questioned this within the business because I’ve continued to deliver what is expected of me – I’m measured on my outputs, rather than inputs.

Of course, I’m not suggesting people should work when they don’t feel great (this is defined as “presenteeism”, where an employee is not fully functioning at work because of an illness, injury or other condition, and is a real issue in the modern workplace) but a flexible working environment has allowed me to feel more in control and decide what works best for me.

An open door approach

I fully appreciate that not all firms can offer a work from home or hybrid model – but I think there is more that can be done to help pregnant people feel comfortable to, if they so wish, discuss their symptoms and what modifications may be helpful in their place of work. Having attended antenatal classes and met people on different journeys, it has become clear to me that no two pregnancies are the same. That’s why I think it is important for firms to have an ‘open door’ approach that allows people to share their individual needs and feel listened to. Formal policies are useful (and often are a necessity, given pregnancy is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act) but may not fully capture the lived experiences of staff. For example, I was fortunate enough to not suffer from morning sickness, despite this being seen as a ‘stereotypical’ pregnancy symptom!

Looking beyond Working From Home

It is important to note that flexibility also comes in many different guises. It captures not only working from home but part-time hours, compressed hours, staggered hours or job sharing, as examples. It also can come with benefits for not only the employee but the employer too, as explored in this Working in Mortgages blog.

Many firms may be unaware that from 6 April 2024, new and existing employees will have the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. Currently, employees must have been employed for at least 26 weeks before making a request to work flexibly. This law change will require firms to review and update their flexible working policies. Whilst there’s no requirement for firms to grant flexible working requests, it is hoped the regulations will encourage more to broaden their perspectives and consider ‘how can we make this work?’.

Changing times

We’ve come a long way from pregnancy being seen as a hindrance. I recently spoke to my mother-in-law, who gave birth in Bahrain in the 90s, and was horrified to learn that as soon as she fell pregnant, the expectation was that she would quit her job! I feel very fortunate to be living during an era where this isn’t the only path to take. But it also highlighted to me there is always more to be done to ensure we carry the baton forward for both current and future generations.

The availability of flexible working options is important if we are to attract and retain a diverse workforce within the mortgage sector. I think more can be done by firms to review flexible working arrangements, but perhaps the challenge is knowing where to start or what is feasible. I think it would be great if our industry shared more case studies on flexible working, featuring employees and firms. It is important to show both perspectives and involve a diverse range of people, not just women. The Working in Mortgages website would be the ideal place to host this type of content.

As I look towards my new role as a mother, and the uncertainties and challenges this new life stage will bring, what gives me reassurance in my professional life is knowing I can work flexibly. This leaves me feeling hopeful, excited and optimistic for what my future career trajectory looks like within our wonderful industry.