There’s currently no legal obligation to proactively support employees experiencing fertility challenges. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make good moral and commercial sense to do it. Doing so can positively impact the quality of life of those who are struggling, and the productivity and profitability of the organisation.

So how do you do it? Here are five steps I recommend you take:

  1. Acknowledge that fertility is a workplace issue

The starting point is to acknowledge that fertility is a workplace issue, including in your workplace.

If you haven’t been hearing stories of your employees struggling to manage fertility challenges alongside their work, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening.

If your workforce is predominantly male, it doesn’t mean you’re exempt.

We know that 1 in 7 heterosexual couples in the UK experience fertility challenges and the LGBTQ+ community and those who aren’t in a relationship need support to create the families they desire too.

We also know that 50% of fertility problems within a heterosexual couple are due wholly or partly to the man. The physical procedures involved in treating infertility may disproportionately affect women, but the mental, emotional, social, and financial toll is often shared by men.

And of course, those trying to create a family tend to be of working age.

Apply these stats to your workforce and it will give you a good indication of just how prevalent an issue fertility is in your workplace. 

And remember, it isn’t a new issue. It’s been there for many years, shrouded in silence and stigma. But you can break the silence and break down the stigma, by following the recommendations below.

  1. Educate your managers, HR teams and wider workforce

Once you’ve acknowledged that fertility is a workplace issue for your workplace, it’s a good idea to learn more about it. Inviting experts to deliver awareness raising sessions to your managers, HR teams and workforce at large, is an engaging and effective way to do this.

Ideally you want your people to understand who could struggle with fertility challenges, what fertility challenges and treatments can entail, the impact they can have personally and professionally, and crucially, how to talk about these matters and be considerate towards those affected. Armed with this knowledge, they will have the confidence they need to engage with their colleagues compassionately and effectively.   

  1. Offer fertility benefits and support

Understanding more about fertility challenges and treatments, what they entail, who could be impacted and how they could be impacted, will also make it easier for you to take the next step of deciding what benefits and support you will offer.

Your offering may vary depending on whether your employees are engaged in fertility investigations, preservations, or treatments, and whether they’re engaged directly or as a supporting partner or intended parent, but you will typically find that the following are most sought after:

  • The ability to flex hours, working patterns, work locations, (e.g. allowing working from home), and/or duties, to attend appointments, take medication and manage well-being.
  • Time off, paid where possible, to attend fertility related appointments and heal, whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Workplace adjustments, such as somewhere to take sensitive calls, store medication which requires refrigeration, and administer injections.
  • Access to mental and emotional support, for example coaches and counsellors, especially those with expertise in fertility issues and their intersection with working life.

If you have the budget, then financial assistance with fertility investigations, preservations, and/or treatments, would be a significant additional bonus.  

But please don’t let a limited budget be an excuse for offering nothing. You’re likely to already be paying a price for not supporting your employees with fertility challenges, through reduced productivity, unexpected and unexplained absences, and resignations. Managing flexible working arrangements and anticipated absence for relatively short periods of time, while also providing well-being support, has great potential to lead to a healthier bottom line.

And you won’t necessarily need to start from scratch. It’s possible you already have policies and other resources, such as employee assistance schemes, and well-being programmes, in place, that you can utilise with a bit of modification. 

  1. Introduce a Fertility Policy

Once you know what benefits and support you will offer, it’s helpful to set this out in a Fertility Policy.

To be as inclusive as possible, your policy should apply to all your employees, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, or relationship status. So far as possible, it should also cover the different treatments and processes they may be pursuing, and the different capacities in which they may be involved.

Remember, you will need to specify not just what you offer, but how your offering can be accessed.

You will also need to ensure your policy is well promoted, easily accessible, and stored in a sensitive and obvious location – not, for example, appended to a maternity policy. After all, there is no point having a policy if no-one knows about it.

There is also no point having a policy if those who are required to enforce it, don’t know how to do it. Your line managers and HR teams will therefore need some guidance in how to use it.

And please remember that this isn’t a static document. Keep your policy under review and update it when necessary to ensure it continues to have the desired impact.

Having a policy like this in place will give confidence to managers who are asked to provide support, and ease the sense of burden felt by those seeking support. It will help manage expectations, promote consistency of treatment, and reduce stress on all sides.

  1. Create an open, inclusive, and supportive culture

The above steps will take you a long way with supporting employees experiencing fertility challenges.

But the difference that will really make difference is an open, inclusive, and supportive culture around fertility in the workplace.

Education, benefits, and policy have a vital role in creating this culture, but on their own, they’re not enough.

You need to weave positive engagement about fertility challenges into your daily operations.

There are many ways you can do this, for example:

  • Appointing independent fertility officers who your employees can turn to for help.
  • Establishing fertility networks and/or peer groups which enable employees to be a source of support for each other.
  • Celebrating and rewarding supportive action by managers.
  • Acknowledging fertility awareness days.
  • Supporting fertility charities.
  • Engaging with specialists in the fertility industry.

And don’t forget that your best asset when it comes to transforming your culture is your people. If you open up the conversation about fertility in your workplace, for example through awareness raising sessions, and you demonstrate commitment to providing support, for example through benefits and policy, you may find you have willing volunteers to be fertility advocates within your organisation. Allow them to share stories, lead communities and provide valuable feedback about your fertility in the workplace strategy. There’s no better way to ensure that the action you take to support your employees experiencing fertility challenges, works for them and your organisation.

If you’ve come to the end of this list and you feel overwhelmed, please remember that you don’t need to do everything, all at once. Choose one action, make a start, allow momentum to build, and move forward one step at a time.

And if you would like some support, contact me at emma@abc10726.sg-host.com. I would be happy to help you implement any of these recommendations in your workplace.

Emma Menzies | 24 April 2024

Copyright © 2024 Emma Menzies t/a Ready Steady Coach

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