LinkedIn's senior HR director for EMEA & LATAM urges employers to think holistically about fertility
Supporting employees going through fertility struggles is not a topic often discussed in the workplace. However, figures from Fertility Network UK show that 3.5 million people are affected by fertility issues, highlighting the prevalence of infertility.
The impact of struggling to conceive ranges from increased stress and worry, to financial strain (for those who are self-funding treatment such as IVF), to the physical and emotional toil of undergoing treatment.
Research undertaken by LinkedIn reveals that 51% of employees going through fertility struggles have had to take time off work for medical reasons, but only 43% feel supported by their manager.
HR professionals themselves believe that more should be done to support employees with fertility struggles, with the majority (91%) stating they would benefit from education and support to help them better understand employee fertility issues.
Finnegan draws on her own experience of going through fertility treatment to highlight the extra strain that employees can be under during this time. Her IVF cycles lasted for six weeks and involved a lot of scans and tests.
During her first two cycles she did not reveal to her manager that she was having the treatment. As a result, she says she felt like a fraud as she was having to come up with excuses, which added to her stress levels.
“The 3rd time I did it I explained to my manager what was happening, and for the six weeks of the cycle I could work flexibly,” she says.
LinkedIn’s campaign aims to raise awareness about fertility struggles and the number of people it affects. As Finnegan notes, “you’re going to have a lot of people in your organisation who will be affected”.
“Companies need to start thinking about the policies that they can introduce. They don’t need to pay for IVF, but something that they can set out like flexible working,” she adds.
LinkedIn’s research showed that 52% of employees said their employer does not have a separate fertility policy. Although these can be useful in defining the parameters of any flexibility and/or benefits that an employee is entitled to, and ensure consistency across a business, they aren’t necessarily the answer.
Transparent and open cultures are really important believes Finnegan, as these allow employees to be honest about what they’re going through and enable employers to support staff in the first instance.
Beyond this though, Finnegan questions whether employers are giving line managers the tools they need to have these conversations? Is there a manager toolkit, a flex approach, knowledge of where to signpost to for additional support, and simply, are managers being empathetic?
“Do managers know to listen and to ask what they [employees] need in order to help get them through this difficult time?” adds Finnegan.
Another issue that managers need to be aware of is that IVF may not work. Not everyone going through IVF has a positive outcome and so starting to plan for maternity leave can be very damaging to the employee. Preparing too early may also lead to concerns from women about their future careers.
As to whom these issues may apply, Finnegan warns that employers need to “keep a broad perspective of who might need this [support] and when.”
“It can be really isolating for the person not going through the physical side of it – the more we can include the partner in the process the better,” she says.
And this doesn’t just apply to heterosexual couples. “Partners might need to attend appointments for moral support or medical reasons…all too often we focus on the woman, but the partner has also lost a child or the potential child.”
This idea of a holistic and inclusive approach needs to be considered in the wider context of the whole employee population, particularly when considering flexible working.
“A lot of employers have become very family-focused, but that can be very isolating for those without a family – everyone should be able to access policies and [employers should] think about people without families,” says Finnegan.
When it comes to offering benefits to support those with fertility struggles there are several things that employers can do.
LinkedIn covers the cost of IVF for employees, but the HR team was keen to ensure that it didn’t just focus on financial assistance. As such, they have a much broader set of support frameworks to ensure people are emotionally supported, including a manager guide book, promoting the EAP and highlighting other related issues such as miscarriage and adoption.
Finnegan believes that by supporting employees going through fertility treatment, which only lasts one to two months at a time, employers will reap the benefits.
The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.