Family-friendly benefits: How to support employees during fertility treatment
NHS infertility figures show that around one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving, and the majority of these people are likely to be in employment. Research from Fertility Network UK shows that 19% of people facing infertility cut their hours or leave employment completely, so it’s important for employers to consider how best to support employees.
What are the causes of infertility?
There are many causes of infertility and, while around a quarter of cases are unexplained, some include:
- lack of regular ovulation (the monthly release of an egg)
- poor quality semen
- blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
- endometriosis – where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (the endometrium) is found outside the womb.
There remains a stigma in talking about infertility, especially in the workplace. Studies have shown that 62% of workers were more likely to share dental or medical procedure in exact terms over a fertility process with colleagues and 56% agreed that people don’t talk about fertility at work, and so didn’t feel comfortable taking to their manager about treatment, according to Resolve's Uncover Fertility and Family-Forming Trends in New Fertility at Work Study. This stigma is critical to reduce, as often employees need to disclose their situation in order to access support from their employer.
Treatment can be difficult to navigate, and the journey isn’t the same for everyone. Accessing care can be a postcode lottery, with more barriers for older couples, single women and same sex couples .
Infertility can have a devastating impact on all aspects of people’s lives, with 90% reporting feelings of depression and 20% reported experiencing a miscarriage. It is therefore critical that employers ensure all their people have the right support and feel comfortable to ask for their help.
How can businesses support their people?
There are a range of wellbeing options from support and guidance apps to introducing cash benefit through your employee private medical insurance.
In order for people to feel comfortable in taking these benefits and knowing they exist, it is critical to foster an open culture where people can talk about all health issues. Leaders must role model this behaviour, but also include employee groups, and reinforce the importance of reaching out for support when employees need it.
What can each people manager do?
Each manager plays a crucial role in employee wellbeing in any organisation and so can do a number of things to support both men and women experiencing fertility concerns:
- Understand what employees are entitled to: employees aren’t by law allowed any additional time off for fertility treatment. But medical appointments or illness as a result of treatment should be treated the same as any other appointments or sickness absence according to your policies
- Try to be flexible: not only can fertility concerns themselves be hugely stressful, IVF (in vitro fertilisation) can be all-consuming, both physically and mentally. Appointments may need to be frequent and can be unpredictable. Where possible, being understanding to your employees’ needs will help to alleviate any stress they may be feeling about how to manage the process alongside other commitments
- Make sure you understand your company’s fertility policy: this will help you know how to approach the situation appropriately. By making sure all teams follow the same policy, you can help to ensure a consistent approach and encourage employees to talk more openly about any concerns they have
- Mental impact: pay attention to your employees’ mental health and any indications that they may need extra support
- Consider additional support: Encourage the use of your employee assistance programme and other appropriate support services, if you have one, and as manager consider using the service yourself to talk through any concerns and get guidance.
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