Kristen P. Jones, PhD, Jacquelyn M. Brady, PhD, Alex P. Lindsey, PhD, Lilia M. Cortina, PhD, and C. Kendall Major, MD
Many studies confirm the presence of stress in the workplace, including stress incurred at work during pregnancy. These stressors are related to both work-life issues during pregnancy, such as workload and deadlines, and to recovery after pregnancy, especially in the event of postpartum depression and physical recovery from childbirth. Therefore, workplace stress can impact prenatal and postpartum health, which in turn, affects return to the workplace and subsequent productivity. This study reports on two factors that can mitigate stress pregnant women encounter at work: coworker support and supervisor support received during pregnancy. Alleviation of stress during pregnancy is likely to lead to lower incidence of postpartum depression, faster physical recovery, and greater ease of transition back into the workplace for the mother.
Stress Surrounding Pregnancy in the Workplace
Many different factors can elevate stress levels for pregnant women, and this stress can be caused by a handful of things. In the workplace, there are external stressors, caused by the surroundings and conditions of the workplace, and internal stressors that are caused by pregnancy itself.
Some external stressors during pregnancy include the fear of pregnancy-based discrimination and the stress caused by conflicting role demands. While there are laws in place protecting pregnant women from workplace discrimination, there is still an underlying level of stress that arises from the fear of being treated differently once women disclose their pregnancy. Task and role demands in the workplace also cause stress as women navigate balancing the demands of work with the demands of their pregnancy. Along with external stressors, there are internal stressors that impact women. These include body changes, psychological changes, and hormone changes—all internal causes of stress that can interfere with health and work.
The stress that pregnant employees experience in the workplace can harm both their health and productivity. Therefore, it is essential to take a closer look at the role that coworkers and supervisors play in mitigating the stress that pregnant employees feel in the workplace.
Supporting Pregnant Employees
According to research, having social support at work from coworkers and supervisors can benefit pregnant employees. Social support is defined as the psychological and material resources provided by a social network to help individuals cope with stress.1
Those in the workforce often spend more hours of the week with coworkers than they do with family members. As such, it is vital for coworkers of pregnant employees to understand how valuable their support can be. Coworker support can look like many different things: helping one another, sharing knowledge, and providing encouragement can all be characterized as forms of support that provide benefits and help alleviate stress for those who are pregnant and employed.
Coworker support can equip women with tools to aid in the balancing act of work and pregnancy. Social support between coworkers not only enables women to better cope with stress, but it also makes them more stress-resistant, which leads to both mental and physical health benefits.2 Strong relationships at work can also provide pregnant women with a place to outwardly express their feelings and concerns surrounding their pregnancy. These relationships provide a support system within the workplace that becomes a highly valued resource.
Supervisor support is a very powerful resource for pregnant women. Research suggests that the benefits of coworker support may be limited if supervisor support is not also present. This is because supervisors hold a different level of power than coworkers. Supervisors are responsible for setting an example and the tone which encourages support among coworkers. Supportive supervisors play a crucial role in protecting women from the stressors commonly found in the workplace.
Supervisors can provide a different level of support for pregnant women, as they make important decisions that can influence women’s perceptions of stress, such as decisions about maternity leave, flexible work, time off for doctor’s appointments, etc. The decisions a supervisor makes regarding such topics are likely to dictate the level of stress a woman feels at work. Supportive supervisors who react proactively to pregnancy are proven to provide the most benefits for pregnant women.
Effectively Creating a Supportive Workplace in Real Estate
Since the majority of all real estate agents today are women, understanding pregnancy and how to reduce stress among employees in the real estate industry is essential. Not only will social support have health benefits for expectant mothers on your team, but such care can also impact your firm’s bottom line. There are already some inherent norms in place that are beneficial for pregnant women within real estate. For example, flexible work schedules are very helpful when it comes to balancing pregnancy and work. Beyond allowing a flexible schedule, brokers and team leaders have the power to provide support to combat external and internal stressors.
As a fellow broker or agent, you can help alleviate external stressors when you let your pregnant coworkers know that they can rely on you for support. One way this can be done is simply by showing empathy and concern. You can also show support by offering to help with various daily tasks. This could be as simple as filling in for a pregnant agent when she has a doctor’s appointment or offering to set up yard signs for new listings. Internal stressors can be more intimidating to approach, but a great way to start would be through strong communication—simply asking a pregnant coworker what you can do to support her or what she needs is a great start. Coworkers may not be able to change internal stressors, but they can take time to listen, support, and encourage. In return, open communication about stress can lead to a healthier self and a healthier relationship with work.
At the end of the day, it takes a committed and caring team to foster an environment that reduces stressors for pregnant women at work. In a fast-paced industry such as real estate, knowing how to help reduce stress for pregnant women is essential. Being a supportive agent or broker is one key that can help both your firm and pregnant employees succeed.
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Jones, Kristen P., Jacquelyn M. Brady, Alex P. Lindsey, Lilia M. Cortina, and C. Kendall Major (2022), “The Interactive Effects of Coworker and Supervisor Support on Prenatal Stress and Postpartum Health: A Time-Lagged Investigation,” Journal of Business and Psychology, 37, 469-490.
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- Cherry, Kendra (2022), “How a Social Support System Contributes to Psychological Health,” Verywell Mind. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/social-support-for-psychological-health-4119970
- Hobfoll, Stevan E. (2002), “Social and Psychological Resources and Adaptation,” Review of General Psychology, 6, 307-324.
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About the Authors
Kristen P. Jones, PhD
Associate Professor of Management, The University of Memphis
Dr. Kristen P. Jones (PhD – George Mason University) teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses related to human resource management, conducts research on workforce diversity and inclusion, and mentors doctoral students. Her program of research focuses on identifying and remediating the range of biases—both subtle and overt—that unfairly disadvantage diverse employees at work, particularly women and mothers. Her work has been published in premier outlets including Journal of Management, Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Harvard Business Review, Journal of Organizational Behavior, and Journal of Business and Psychology. Dr. Jones's research has also been recognized through grants from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI).
Jacquelyn Brady, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychology, San Jose State University
Dr. Jacquelyn Brady (PhD – Portland State University) specializes in industrial organizational (I/O) psychology and the subfield of occupational health psychology (OHP), which bridges her background in I/O and social health psychology. Dr. Brady’s research interests are primarily in OHP, specifically, the inextricable link between work factors and well-being and work outcomes. The goal of her work is to share meaningful strategies organizations can utilize to improve employee health, safety, and general well-being across work and non-work domains.
Alex Lindsey, PhD
Assistant Professor of Management, The University of Memphis
Dr. Alex Lindsey’s (PhD – George Mason University) program of research investigates fair and equitable solutions to mitigate diversity-related challenges such as prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. Because seemingly trivial instances of disadvantage can create substantial inequity over time in the workplace, it represents a ripe context in which to study manifestations of disadvantage and potential solutions to these serious problems. His research seeks to generate effective strategies that targets of prejudice, their allies, and organizations can use to reduce inequality and promote inclusion in the workplace. Specifically, Dr. Lindsey's work has addressed diversity training effectiveness, impression and identity management strategies, and diverse team dynamics. His work has been published in quality outlets such as Journal of Applied Psychology and Journal of Business and Psychology.
Lilia M. Cortina, PhD
Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan
Dr. Lilia M. Cortina (PhD – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is an organizational psychologist, and she researches sexual harassment and incivility, in both civilian and military work settings. Dr. Cortina has published over 50 articles and book chapters on these topics. In recognition of outstanding contributions to the field, she has been named Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology. In addition, Professor Cortina occasionally serves as an expert witness in sexual harassment litigation, translating findings from the scientific literature to inform legal decision-making.
C. Kendall Major, MD
Resident Physician, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Dr. C. Kendall Major (MD – Eastern Virginia Medical School) is an internal medicine resident physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After residency, she plans to pursue a fellowship in Hematology-Oncology. Her research interests include solid tumors of the genitourinary system and outcomes research for oncologic patients. Professional interests include employee wellness and equitable parental benefits. Dr. Major serves on the Ethics Committee and the Lactation Task Force at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the President of Housestaff Governing Council at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where she strives to improve resident and fellow wellness.