Five ways to support reproductive health for both men and women in the workplace
The impact of fertility challenges often goes unspoken, but it should never be underestimated. Invasive treatment leaves patients feeling exhausted and often physically unwell. Emotionally, it’s an incredibly difficult time as both women and men may experience the pain of pregnancy loss or failed IVF and in some cases, have to come to terms with the fact they may never have children. Then there is the financial burden: an IVF cycle costs £5,000 on average and there is only a 30% chance of success each time.
The recent survey which Fertifa ran with Fertility Network UK revealed that 9 out of 10 people struggled with their mental health while they were undergoing fertility investigations or treatment; a combination of anxiety (91%), stress (89%) and depression (88%).
This mental health impact inevitably has a marked effect on workplace performance: 56% experienced decreased job satisfaction while trying to conceive and 38% had seriously considered leaving their job – or had quit. Sixty three per cent admitted to reduced engagement at work and 36% had to take increased sickness absence.
It’s not a minority issue
Fertility is something which touches upon us all, at some point in our lives. It’s not just a ‘women’s issue’, as 40% of fertility challenges lie with the male partner. Furthermore, it’s not just an issue which affects couples who are actively trying for a baby. Single women are increasingly looking into fertility preservation and same-sex couples need additional support to create their families, often through donor conception or adoption, both of which are stressful processes, entailing numerous appointments and checks.
Awareness is growing
Workplace fertility support has been offered as standard by leading employers in the US for some time now. It is still a relatively new concept in the UK, but in recent months we have witnessed a sharp rise in the number of UK companies announcing new policies and procedures to help support a range of sex-specific health issues, including fertility, pregnancy loss and menopause, including Centrica, ASOS, Co-Op and Kellogg’s.
The Covid pandemic has led to a change in employees’ expectations as they look for more family-friendly employers to help maintain a good work-life balance. Employers have responded by re-evaluating their benefits packages and policies to ensure they are retaining talent and attracting new recruits. Fertility support is a core offering for any wellbeing strategy, given the clear and proven link to mental health. What practical steps can employers take to support reproductive health?
1. Update policies
This is the first stage in helping to create an open and supportive culture. There are a number of ways in which a policy can be enhanced to encompass reproductive health issues, including offering paid time off for fertility treatment and bereavement leave for pregnancy loss. It is important that these policies are worded very carefully to ensure they are fully inclusive with respect to sexuality, gender and relationship status.
2. Train line managers
Having a policy is a great first step but it will only be effective if line managers are fully trained on the details and understand how to handle reproductive health issues in the workplace. Training should encompass all aspects of fertility, links with mental health and guidance on how to have the right conversations with affected team members.
3. Offer company-wide education
We all have reproductive health, but it’s surprising how little many of us know about it! It can be highly beneficial for an entire organisation to receive training on the different aspects of fertility and gender-specific health issues, so that every worker can understand what their colleagues might be going through and be comfortable with how they might approach it, if and when needed.
4. Establish internal networks
Support groups can be a great way to ensure anyone on a fertility journey does not feel alone in the workplace. Centrica set up a highly successful group which regularly meets in person. Many other companies have set up groups through collaborative online tools, such as Yammer. The way to get started is to seek out someone who can be an advocate - and empower them to take the lead.
5. Review your healthcare provision
Fertility is not often covered by private medical insurance due to the high premiums involved, but it is worth advising employees if anything is covered by your scheme. EAPs may be able to offer some support or counselling, but they are not fertility specialists. If your current cover falls short in this area, it is worth considering a specialist fertility benefits provider which can directly refer patients for diagnostics and treatment and provide ongoing support from a fertility advisor.
A successful fertility support programme may deliver for a business:
- A happier, more productive workforce
If the subject is openly discussed at work, it not only means a more honest dialogue, it will also take a huge burden off the affected employee, when they know that their employer is supportive.
- Attracting and retaining talent
A 2019 survey by Willis Towers Watson found that 33% of UK millennials said they believe companies should offer fertility benefits and with the number of household names now taking this area of health seriously, it will soon become something which is expected of employers.
- Good return on investment
If you consider the price of absenteeism, poor productivity, losing staff due to the emotional stress of the process and the additional cost of having to replace them, fertility support is undoubtedly a worthwhile investment.
This article is provided by Fertifa.
In partnership with Fertifa
Fertifa is the UK’s leading fertility and reproductive health benefits provider.