With last month (Movember) marking Men’s Health Awareness Month, it’s important for organisations to address an important issue that affects many men: infertility. Unfortunately, men’s health issues can be widely overlooked, with topics such as infertility often very difficult for men to talk about, particularly in the workplace.
A recent study conducted by CIPD highlighted that only 30% of employees feel quite or very supported by their employers while having fertility issues. While there have been significant strides in advancing women’s reproductive health, it is important to acknowledge that male fertility is an equally vital aspect of the equation.
Fortunately, Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month provided a great opportunity to begin the conversation about sensitive issues that men experience and eradicate the negative stigmas that exist. What’s important to consider, however, is that addressing these topics shouldn’t be limited solely to a one-month period. In fact, the conversations should continue all year round and organisations must use the momentum to ensure they maintain the same level of support on an on-going basis, to showcase the importance of wellbeing. As such, it’s crucial that employers provide a caring and inclusive approach to support when it comes to infertility issues, that extends to all employees and acknowledges the different fertility journeys they may be on.
Fertility issues affect one in seven couples, or about 3.5m people, and while often thought of as a women’s issue, 50% of fertility problems within a heterosexual relationship can be due to male infertility, including low sperm count – which affects 1 in 3 couples struggling to have children. As a matter of fact, 7% of all men experience infertility and the average global sperm concentration fell from an estimated 101.2 million sperm per millilitre to just 49 million. In addition, a study conducted by the Fertility Network UK, found that 93% of men feel their wellbeing has been affected by infertility, with many admitting to feeling shame and embarrassment as well as low self-esteem.
Given how many men live with infertility issues, organisations must ensure to break down the taboo surrounding the topic and include specialised support within their wellbeing programmes and initiatives. Any guidance or support should be inclusive and compassionate, factoring in the different circumstances for individual men. First and foremost, employee health and wellbeing packages must include fertility support targeted at men specifically, and should not be limited to women.
In order to better support men with infertility in the workplace, employers must consider the wording of their fertility policies and update these to be more inclusive. On top of this, companies should be fostering a safe environment in which men feel comfortable enough to share any issues, if they feel comfortable to do so. By giving men the space to open up, employers can help shift the stigma from being ‘taboo’ and help create a non-judgemental work culture. In addition, this will allow employers to better understand their employees and how to provide wellbeing support.
When it comes to providing support, it was found that employees would like more flexibility on working hours and working from home, time off to attend appointments, and better understanding, particularly from their managers when it comes to their health and any related issues related to their infertility. Organisations should take these factors into consideration when building their wellbeing programmes and ensure their employees feel comfortable enough to ask for time off when they need it, as well as provide the opportunity for employees to work from home. In addition, they should make sure that line managers are properly educated on the boundaries of their role, how they provide appropriate support and what type of help they are able to offer. That being said, line managers shouldn’t be the only ones trained on the correct response, and awareness should be spread across the entire company.
In terms of the framework, employers should make sure their approach includes outline policy provision and resources that employees can turn to for extra help and awareness. Employers should also consider using an employee assistance programme as well as share external specialist charities or support groups that employees can turn to if they don’t feel comfortable speaking about it with their bosses or colleagues.
Ultimately, men make up 50% of the population, so it’s crucial their health and wellbeing isn’t overlooked, particularly when it comes to infertility. Each individual will have a different experience, which is why organisations must make an effort to be compassionate and understanding, in order to provide suitable support to their employees. By taking these necessary steps, fostering a more open and safe work environment and adopting a more inclusive and compassionate approach to sensitive health issues, companies can provide better support and make their employees feel heard and understood.
Dr Tet L Yap
Dr Tet L Yap is a consultant in urology and andrology, specialising in male fertility, at HCA Healthcare UK. He qualified from Cambridge in 2000 and completed specialist training in the Department of Surgery and Urology at University College London, Charing Cross Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital and St Bartholomew's Hospital. He has also completed several fellowships, including Stanford, Memorial Sloane Kettering and UCL Hospital specialising in Urology and in Great Ormond Street Hospital specialising in andrology and paediatric urology.