Proper breastfeeding support is a win-win situation for employers and employees

Author: Dr Alex Wong | Date: 7 Dec 2016

Many organisations still lack the right policies to support working mothers, says Dr Alex Wong

Dr Alex WongMany organisations still have no corporate policies to support breastfeeding employees. When there is a lack of support and absence of adequate facilities, lactating mothers may be forced to take time out from work and pump breast milk in the toilet.
Though breastfeeding in public is now more common than 10 years ago, it was only last year that Hong Kong’s Department of Health called on restaurant operators not to ask customers to breastfeed in toilets.
There is currently no legislation that helps breastfeeding mothers in public or requires employers to provide support at work.
Chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, Dr. Stanley Ng Chau Pei, had an unhappy family experience more than 10 years ago when his wife was breastfeeding and had to use toilets in the workplace and out in public.
Dr Ng is pessimistic about the government bringing in new breastfeeding laws. “The government is not keen on legislation and is hoping employers and employees can resolve the issue between themselves,” he said.
The government’s reluctance to enact legislation is not difficult to understand. Breastfeeding support as a legal requirement may cause considerable financial and administrative difficulties to many SMEs. A lot of consultation work will need to be done to acquire consensus among employers before the law can be made.
However, even before the law is passed, the government should promote greater public education to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, while employers should be encouraged to voluntarily introduce good practices.
Employers could create a friendly work environment where nursing mothers are given regular breaks – which should be paid – as well as private space. Such a space should be a nursery room and not the toilet. No duties are required to be performed during the break time.
HR practitioners should establish an effective communication channel to enable the management and employees to reach mutual understanding.
Some employees may be unhappy with the measures, in particular if they need to take up duties for the breastfeeding co-workers during their lactation breaks. HR should therefore encourage the general employees to adopt a positive and accepting attitude to their breastfeeding fellow workers.
The HR department in this case becomes the breastfeeding support centre, which the nursing mothers may approach for assistance when required.
Employers who are breastfeeding-friendly will benefit in terms of employee loyalty, enhanced corporate image as employers of choice, lower staff turnover rates, improved productivity and profitability. In the long run, such benefits will very likely outweigh the costs involved.
Organisations in many sectors are suffering from labour shortage problems. If they are willing to create a friendlier workplace, this can be relieved to a certain extent by bringing more female labour into the job market.
Dr Alex Wong is a committee member of the Human Capital Management Society, Hong Kong Management Association and a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD.