How to be a dream employer when your employee faces a NICU Nightmare

Awaiting the birth of your child is a really exciting time for families. Yet sometimes things don’t go as planned and your baby may need some extra love and care in the NICU. This is an extremely stressful time for parents. How you show up and support your employee during this tough time is critical for creating a great culture that values and cares for its people.

As a manager, it is important that you respond with empathy. Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Not only are they worried about the health and well-being of their newborn, but they are also navigating the physical and emotional challenges of hospital life including the lack of sleep, financial worries, and family responsibilities. Let them know that you will do what you can to help them balance their work responsibilities with their child’s needs. A few ways to do this are re-evaluating their return to work date, considering a flexible work schedule or leaning on company tools and resources like Employee Assistance Programs for some extra support.

Allowing your NICU parent a longer leave of absence can be a huge relief. Check in with the HR team and ask if there are any organizational policies that allow your employee to take a paid leave of absence.  Keep in mind your employee may be entitled to unpaid leave such as FMLA or other state leave laws. Make sure you understand and can communicate the logistics for applying for an extended leave. Be aware that certain laws such as the FMLA require you to continue your employee’s insurance coverage. Doing this background work for your employee is a huge help. It allows them to focus on their infant. Keep them informed about what you have learned and use this as a jumping off point to discuss their return to work date.

Continue to check in with your employee when they return to work and consider a flexible work plan especially if their babe is still in the NICU. Examples of flexible work plans include remote work, part-time, or a condensed schedule. Remember even when an infant has graduated from the NICU and is home, parents may still need to take additional time off for follow-up medical appointments. Ask your employee what their needs are and how you can support them to balance work and the health of their infant. Set clear and achievable goals for your employee and measure their performance on these rather than their time in the office.

The NICU experience is often traumatic and overwhelming. Does your workplace have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), an Employee Resource Group (ERG), or peer parent who has gone through a similar experience that could mentor your employee? These extra resources can help your employee feel supported by your organization during this difficult time.

Treating an employee with a NICU babe with empathy and care will be greatly appreciated and noticed by the whole team. Setting an example that your employees’ lives matter helps inspire a dedicated and loyal workforce. Tread delicately and with care and your employee will be grateful that you did all that you could to help them navigate this time in their lives.

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