Statistics show that 1 in 7 couples have trouble conceiving, resulting in around 75,000 patients undergoing IVF cycles in the UK each year. However, less than half (42%) of women going through fertility treatment told their boss. Of those, one in four (24%) didn’t receive any support from their employer, and 24% said they experienced unfair treatment as a result.
Experiencing infertility is emotionally draining, as is going through the treatment itself. Hopes are pinned on the outcome and it’s devastating to go through IVF and not to get a positive pregnancy test result. IVF and some other fertility treatments involve taking fertility medication, which can have a number of side effects too. The ‘corporate lifestyle’ doesn’t really support trying to have a family and while stress is not believed to be the sole cause of infertility, it can have a negative impact on fertility treatment. Not being supported by an employer can increase stress levels and have a longer-term impact on the employee’s mental health and well-being. This is why it is so important to build an integrated fertility plan into workplace policy, to offer support to employees planning, undergoing or who have been through the IVF process.
Firstly, what is an integrated fertility policy?
An integrated fertility policy encompasses all facets of fertility treatment and complementary therapies, going beyond merely granting time off for scans and appointments during IVF treatment. This approach, known as ‘integrated fertility,’ takes a holistic, supportive, and inclusive stance towards fertility treatment. It includes various fertility preservation options such as egg freezing, sexual health checks, and gynaecological check-ups. Additionally, complementary medicine like acupuncture and nutritional guidance are offered to individuals undergoing fertility treatment.
Furthermore, this comprehensive policy extends beyond the treatment phase and considers various factors affecting employees’ well-being throughout their fertility journey. This involves adapting workloads, providing miscarriage support, ensuring future fertility protection, offering mental health support, and facilitating physical recuperation. The result is a complete fertility strategy that prioritises the well-being of employees in all matters related to fertility.
The personalised nature of this approach aims to address every aspect of a fertility journey, thereby reducing the stress often associated with fertility treatment. By implementing an integrated fertility policy, employers demonstrate their commitment to supporting employees through their fertility challenges and creating a more compassionate work environment for all.
How are fertility policies created?
Typically, organisations follow a general framework for all family-related policies, but they often customise these policies to meet their specific needs. However, when it comes to a fertility policy, it is essential for it to have a distinct and independent presence to genuinely support employees, rather than being treated as an add-on to a family policy. Creating a dedicated fertility policy requires a thorough understanding of the demographics and requirements of the workforce. For instance, a young tech company or a female-oriented organisation might consider incorporating policies related to egg freezing and other fertility treatments.
It is crucial for businesses to develop a flexible template that can be easily adapted to accommodate changing sector conditions. By doing so, companies can demonstrate their commitment to supporting employees in their fertility journey and offer comprehensive assistance tailored to their unique needs. Emphasising a standalone fertility policy shows the genuine care and consideration that the organisation has for its employees’ well-being and family planning needs.
What are the implications for employers who don’t support an integrated fertility workplace policy?
For employers who don’t support their workforce with a fertility policy there could be a series of negative implications. Firstly, the additional stress placed upon employees may lead to a negative impact on both their work output and overall health, possibly resulting in a need for more time off from work. Furthermore, this situation might lead to an increase in dishonesty, as employees might be tempted to lie about the reasons for their absence or take full sick days instead of admitting to undergoing fertility treatment due to the attached stigma and fear of discrimination.
Another concerning consequence could be the potential loss of conscientious and valuable workers who might choose to leave the company due to feeling unsupported in managing their fertility treatment journey, reinforced by sixty-five percent of workers stating they’d change jobs to work for a company that provided fertility benefits (Carrot fertility). It is important to note that currently there is no statutory right for employees to take time off to attend fertility appointments. However, it is imperative to recognise that discrimination is against the law and employers should recognise and prioritise the wellbeing of their employees.
From a financial perspective, the costs associated with fertility treatments can be substantial, especially for those who must self-fund their procedures since complementary medicine may not be covered. Same-sex couples and single individuals might face additional hurdles, needing to self-fund unsuccessful treatments before becoming eligible for NHS IVF funding. If these individuals are denied paid leave for appointments, it can exacerbate their financial strain and potentially impact their mental health as well.
Moreover, this situation could result in people facing long-term career income loss and missed opportunities for promotions if they experience discrimination or are forced to choose between advancing their careers and starting a family. To mitigate these challenges, it is essential for employers to be understanding and supportive, ensuring that employees’ rights are respected while maintaining a work environment that fosters inclusivity and compassion.
Practical steps to setting up an integrated fertility policy in the workplace:
- Welcome open conversations around fertility and broach the subject with employees first by making them aware of policies or benefits in place should they be going through treatment. This creates a safe space where they feel comfortable to come to you as and when to discuss their treatment
- Accept that there is a need for reasonable flexibility in working hours while undergoing integrated fertility treatment and IVF. Introduce time off for male and female employees to attend appointments, take sick leave and have reasonable adjustments made, in line with the protected period that comes into place once pregnancy occurs
- Knowledge is power – support your employees with the tools and resources they need whilst undergoing fertility treatment through platforms like The IVF Network
- Introduce a ‘fertility officer’ in your organisation who employees can reach out to directly to discuss their treatment/concerns confidently
- Recognise that fertility is a problem for 1 in 6 people globally (WHO) and support those individuals by introducing an integrated fertility policy, not just for those going through IVF but also other fertility procedures like egg freezing. This will not only support your current workforce but will also be compelling for talent acquisition as 68% of adults say they’d switch jobs to gain fertility benefits (Carrot fertility).
Charlotte Gentry is the Founder of The IVF Network which is born out of her 4 year journey through IVF. Charlotte is an entrepreneur who has built a successful events and communications agency and due to her challenges of trying to balance work and starting a family, has built the fastest growing membership community designed to help people and businesses navigate their way through the complexities of fertility.