Infertility is a global health issue that affects roughly one in seven couples worldwide. It’s defined by not getting pregnant after 12 or more months of having regular unprotected sex. It can be due to male fertility factors, female fertility factors, a combination of both or it may be unexplained.
Unexplained infertility is a frustrating diagnosis where the initial tests can not determine a cause, which happens in one in four couples in the UK. IVF (in vitro fertilisation) can be a suitable treatment option for those with fertility problems, but also for people pursuing single parenthood options, and for same-sex couples.
Undergoing fertility treatment can be physically as well as emotionally taxing. People may go through feelings of frustration, anxiety and shame. In addition to the psychological stress of trying to get pregnant, people are also faced with external pressures like the financial strain of treatment, maintaining friendships, balancing work and other life commitments.
It’s essential that those undergoing IVF get the support they need in all areas of their life, including at work. As an employer, you have a moral duty of care to support your employee going through IVF. Here are my five top tips for how employers can support employees undergoing IVF and fertility treatment:
How to support an employee through IVF
Provide fertility education
There’s a feeling of taboo and stigma around needing fertility treatment which often prevents people from sharing their experience with those around them. Educational workshops can be useful to both employees and employers, where everyone can better learn and understand the concerns and needs people may have when undergoing treatment.
Providing access to resources on reproductive health and fertility treatments can help employees feel more confident going into treatment.
Create an open and supportive culture
In a survey conducted by the Fertility Network UK, over 40% of respondents did not disclose that they were undergoing fertility treatment to their employer out of fear that it would negatively affect their career prospects.
While employees might not feel comfortable sharing all of the details of their treatment with their manager or colleagues, it’s important that they feel like they can have an open dialogue to discuss having treatment without concerns of any negative consequences. By creating a supportive environment at work, employees can feel less pressure and stress when going through their treatment.
Establish a fertility policy
Currently there is no entitlement for time off when undergoing fertility treatment. Employees often take annual leave or sick days to cope with the many appointments that are required when having IVF. Establishing an IVF policy at work and a wider fertility policy can be beneficial to employees so they understand what types of support are available.
This could include things like rights to time off work, flexible working arrangements or mental health support. A fertility policy can help both employers and employees understand fertility in the workplace and help manage expectations.
Provide mental health support
Having fertility problems and going through fertility treatments can have a significant impact on mental health. Counsellors and therapists can help manage any anxiety, stress or depression that employees may be experiencing. This can help provide a better emotional wellbeing, and also combat any feelings of isolation employees might be having.
Provide fertility benefits
As fertility issues are becoming more recognised, fertility benefits companies are starting to grow. Benefits companies can provide financial packages making fertility treatments affordable and accessible to everyone. Not every company is able to provide financial support for fertility treatments and often private medical insurance doesn’t cover fertility. Some employers instead choose to build their own benefits policies that can cover fertility testing, provide workplace saving schemes or can provide loans with payments through monthly wages.
Having fertility treatment is not the way most people want to grow their families, but it can be the necessary path to take. Employers can choose to create an environment that supports their employees who are going through IVF and working, which will be beneficial to everyone.