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26 Jul 2023
by Christie Hedge

How to include family forming benefits in a wellbeing strategy

A progressive, family friendly approach can be a strong differentiator in a competitive labour market

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One in six people globally are affected by infertility, according to the World Health Organization.

Others are not diagnosed with infertility, but still experience challenges in creating a family, for example those within the LGBTQ+ community, or those that are not in a relationship.

For organisations eager to recruit and retain talent, a progressive, family friendly approach can be a strong differentiator in a competitive labour market.

Employers looking to meet the diverse needs of employees can consider providing support with education and signposting, infertility diagnostics, funding towards assisted fertility treatment, egg freezing, support for employees planning surrogacy or adoption, and more.

The limited NHS support in these areas means that it is an unmet need for many employees and one that may be too challenging to navigate and/or fund.

WTW’s Emerging Trends in Healthcare Delivery Survey 2022 found that ‘family forming’ ranks highest on inclusive wellbeing benefit areas that employers are already offering or plan to offer their employees in the future.

What are the options?

1. Create a family-friendly policy

A formal family forming HR policy is an essential reference point for employees and line managers and demonstrates that an organisation is inclusive, values employees and prioritises their wellbeing.

A written policy on family forming may require input from a specialist experienced in this health area. It should remove any ambiguity about an organisation’s position and explain the support an employer can provide.

It should provide clarification about the amount of time off permitted, for example, relating to appointments, treatment if applicable, and whether employees receive full pay, reduced pay or no pay. It may be appropriate to offer flexible working hours for a temporary period to accommodate needs for time off. Such a pre-emptive approach can minimise the potential disruption of unplanned absences.

Attention should be given to the language used to ensure it embraces all gender identities and circumstances. The policy should explain the processes and how employees can access support. It should also inform managers and workers of the protocols to be observed and the outcomes to expect.

Creating an employee resource group and involving it in the formation of a family forming policy can help shape strategy, inform and evolve the policy, and help ensure it remains relevant and meets the needs of all employees.

2. Give line managers the necessary skills

The success of a policy depends on how it is implemented, and line manager training and support is an integral part.

Equipping managers with the skills to support employees with an emotional and complex issue is essential if employees are to engage. Manager training and toolkits can help them feel confident to address any issues raised by colleagues and interact in an engaging and empathic manner.

Managers will also need a comprehensive understanding of the policy and how it can best be used for an individual employee’s circumstances.

Given the personal nature of starting a family, managers must be aware of the importance of confidentially in discussions and in any documents.

Connecting with charities and organisations such as Fertility Network UK, British Fertility Society, Two Dads UK, and Fertility Matters at Work is an effective way to embed understanding. Such groups can provide valuable insight into how organisations can become more family forming-friendly.

3. Offer practical support

Organisations can provide consultations and one-to-one support with experts.

Employers can also provide a monetary contribution towards practical support for couples and individuals of any sexual orientation. This could include donor sperm expenses, IVF treatment and surrogacy legal fees.

Employers should seek professional advice about benefit design and funding options, whether through a medical plan or a specialist third-party vendor. Advice on the advantages and disadvantages of each option should be made available as there may be restrictions in the level of cover and eligibility via a medical plan. Tax and legal advice should also be sought.

4. Be aware of the mental impact

Family forming challenges can present psychological as well as physical symptoms. Indeed, anxieties can actually increase the risk of infertility for those impacted.

Such mental burdens can be eased by offering counselling, talking therapies and other types of specialist advice and guidance.

Physical exercise can have positive effects on mental health and signposting the range of physical health benefits available, and providing educational classes and literature to support this, can encourage greater uptake.

5. A win-win situation

Starting a family – either with a partner or solo – is a major life decision. Any organisation that supports employees during this time will be highly valued.

An inclusive health benefits strategy can fundamentally transform employees’ lives. Without one, companies risk alienating employees and suffering operationally and reputationally.

In partnership with WTW

WTW is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

Contact us today