Fertility and the workplace – how can employers support their teams?


Offering support to colleagues struggling to conceive is of paramount importance to businesses that are serious about the welfare of their workforce.

The chances are that you have worked with or otherwise know someone who has undergone or is facing fertility challenges – around one in six couples in the UK struggle to conceive and 1% of all births are made possible thanks to in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Fertility treatment can take a significant toll on the mental and physical health of couples by sparking feelings of isolation – the uncertainty of IVF means it is not commonly discussed – as well as the emotional rollercoaster of hope, fear, success, and all-too-common crushing disappointment.

Work pressure may add to colleagues’ burdens, so employers should take whatever steps they can to support their people facing these challenges. In this blog, we outline just a few things employers need to consider:

Understand the statutory requirements

Firstly, you should be aware of all the issues surrounding fertility from a legal standpoint.

There is no current UK law covering fertility treatment, so legally there is no requirement to give employees paid time off. However, a responsible employer should treat IVF appointments and any sickness associated with the process the same as any other medical appointment or illness.

Some areas of fertility – such as surrogacy, adoption, and paternity – do give employees statutory rights and can incorporate factors such as entitled leave and pay. However, pregnancy rights come into effect once the final part of the IVF treatment is completed. This is known as ’embryo transfer’, when the embryo or embryos are implanted in the womb. It’s vital that any support your organisation offers, such as allowing sick leave due to fertility treatments, is communicated to colleagues clearly to avoid the potential for confusion.

Flexible working

Starting a family with medical assistance is a complicated process and undergoing treatment may require significant time away from work.

Treatments can involve weekly hospital appointments, daily injections and/or medication, ultrasound scans, as well as egg collection and embryo transfer procedures. This treatment forces employees to juggle their treatment and working requirements, to say nothing of any other responsibilities or difficulties they face in their personal life.

A total of 68% of those undergoing fertility treatment felt their mental well-being was affected, while 69.5% needed to take sick leave. Flexible working is one way employers can help staff to manage these competing requirements and avoid stress. They can adjust their hours to meet the requirements of a treatment cycle, including frequent visits to fertility clinics and allowing them to work from home when needed. In fact, 83% of those undergoing a fertility journey during the pandemic, and the enforced home working that came with it, said it made managing fertility treatment easier.

Provide access to counselling

The emotional impact of IVF is laid bare by the fact that 90% of fertility patients report feelings of depression and 42% have felt suicidal.

An employee assistance programme (EAP) is a simple, effective, and anonymous way to provide access to professional mental well-being support to employees who are struggling to cope with the psychological rigours of IVF. However, an EAP is only effective when employers effectively communicate what support is available and how to access it, so employees feel confident that they can get the help they need.

Financial wellbeing

Fertility treatment can be a costly endeavour and this adds another layer to the pressure employees can be forced to endure. If an employee isn’t eligible for NHS treatment, a cycle of IVF at a private clinic can cost up to £5,000 or more.

However, a corporate healthcare trust, such as that offered through Healix, allows you to provide employees with support, guidance, and access to fertility treatments. This is not only offering an appealing benefit to prospective employees, but can ease the burden on your current workforce as they embark on a life-changing journey.

Support with financial well-being, from the start of the journey to the arrival of their little one, can also reduce the stress that comes with uncertainty over money. Courses on financial planning, how to set aside savings ahead of birth, and access to bespoke advice could be a welcome helping hand.

Build awareness

A staff member may face complications if their colleagues don’t realise the extensive and varied challenges the IVF process can present.

Managers should be proactive about IVF understanding and hold awareness days or weeks to educate employees on this issue, normalise what can be an uncomfortable topic, and ensure employees feel included and knowledgeable.

National Infertility Awareness Week takes place every year in April and provides a great opportunity to raise this issue, and to share resources that simply and effectively highlight infertility.

Fertility treatment can be an arduous procedure that requires significant time, investment, and emotional bandwidth. But the right support from an employer – such as offering benefits through a corporate healthcare trust or allowing flexible working – can have a really positive impact on those making sacrifices to bring a child into the world. Facilitating employees undergoing IVF also helps to build a more inclusive workplace and demonstrate your position as a socially conscious employer that really is committed to the well-being of your people.

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