By Caroline Noublanche, CEO and founder of Apricity
Last year over 640,000 births were registered in the UK, with the vast majority born to women of working age.
Women are increasingly having children later in life, citing career and life goals, financial stability, and health concerns as just some of the reasons to delay starting a family.
However, for working women, the personal and private decision to try for a baby can put a huge strain on day-to-day working life, particularly if they or their partner face struggles with infertility. According to the NHS, one in seven couples face difficulties when trying to conceive, and one in every fifty babies born in the UK are the result of IVF and fertility treatments.
Considering millions of women at any given time could be either trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatments whilst working a full-time job, it’s vital for workplaces to understand how to create a supportive and safe space for women and their partners to be open and honest about their fertility journey.
Keeping silent: the fertility talk taboo
Despite the likelihood of at least one person in any large office to be experiencing infertility, it’s rare for fertility to be discussed amongst co-workers and management. The private and deeply personal nature of trying to conceive means that there is a well-entrenched taboo on the subject, along with legitimate fears surrounding the impact on career advancement.
A survey from Fertility Network UK found that just 50% of women disclosed their fertility treatments to their employer, citing a concern that they would not be taken seriously, whilst 40% chose to hide it out of fear it would negatively affect their career progression.
Undergoing fertility treatments can take a serious toll, from the physical demands of daily injections and side effects, to the mental stress of needing repeat cycles or dealing with bad news. People may also need to make multiple visits to the clinic, with research from Apricity revealing that 70% of patients had to take days off because of treatment¹. This can lead to anxiety over absences, and over-working to compensate at a time when they most need to rest.
For employers, these taboos could mean that many valued members of staff are suffering in silence at work and are unable to be supported to achieve at their best. It also means companies are more likely to lose women at senior leadership level, something that’s been proven to harm their bottom line.
Although they may seem at odds, ultimately both employers and staff are aligned in their goals to find a solution which limits the negative impact of fertility treatments on productivity and career progression, whilst ensuring that women and their partners are able to start a family when they choose.
So, considering the importance of the subject, how can employers begin the process of supporting staff through their fertility journey?
Starting a conversation
The first step to implementing any form of change is to get a conversation started. People may initially be reluctant to share their own personal stories, so it can be beneficial to bring in external speakers and experts to talk with staff. This demonstrates that this is a topic that management wants people to feel able to discuss. Options could include hosting a webinar on male infertility from a specialist, bringing in speakers to discuss their own fertility journey, or working with independent counsellors to provide 1-to-1 confidential support for those who’d like it.
These discussions need to be sensitive to the fact that some people may never feel comfortable discussing their fertility at work. All activities should be on a voluntary basis, and allow people the time and space to recover afterwards if they are affected by the topics raised.
Implementing a fertility policy
Although infertility is officially classed as a disease by the World Health Organisation, UK employers currently have no obligation to provide the same level of support as they do during pregnancy or for other medical conditions. It falls to HR departments to decide what should happen, and this varies wildly from company to company.
Businesses can look to implement a fertility policy or set of guidelines for those trying to conceive, which can help to relieve the pressure of having to hide fertility treatments from management. The policy could include flexible hours for those who need to attend clinic appointments, or a set number of days off to be used as necessary. This approach shows employees that the business understands the difficulties they are going through, and small concessions to acknowledge the struggle and make life easier can go a long way towards improving wellbeing and overall progression from staff.
Offering fertility treatments as workplace benefits
One of the most tangible ways to support employees and increase retention is to offer fertility treatments such as IVF and egg freezing as part of a workplace benefits package. This is already a common practice in the US, and is rapidly gaining momentum here in the UK, with one in three young workers agreeing that employers should offer fertility benefits.
Treatments such as IVF can be costly and require multiple rounds, and so offering these as part of employment benefits can be one of the biggest draws to attracting talent. It can also help with staff retention; for example women can take up the offer of egg freezing and fertility treatments with the knowledge that they have the support of their company and management.
There are also virtual fertility clinics like ours that can provide tailored advice and support to those trying to conceive. With virtual clinics, women can carry out many of their treatments in the comfort of their own home, reducing the time and effort of needing to visit the clinic and offering a better work-life balance. In the pandemic, these digital services have proven critical in helping many women continue their treatment journey.
Ultimately, employers need to make it clear and visible that they are there to support colleagues who are trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatments. The rewards of this are twofold, both to the wellbeing and happiness of the employee, and to the bottom line of the company. When it comes to a topic which affects such a large proportion of the workforce and society, the UK can’t afford to fall short.
About the author
Caroline Noublanche is the founder and CEO of Apricity, the world’s first virtual fertility startup.
Apricity’s digital solution provides access to world-class fertility advisors and assists patients with a fully customised journey, all easily navigated through a mobile app.
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