How can employers improve support policies for IVF?

  • In vitro fertilisation (IVF) support should arguably begin before any employee knows they need it, by ensuring everyone is aware of the policies and processes in their organisation.
  • Those accessing fertility treatment in the UK through a fertility clinic will receive counselling with a British Infertility Counselling Association counsellor, which is mandatory.
  • Employers may want to create a culture of openness, where employees know they will be supported in their family plans.

A report published in January 2022 by Cityparents, an organisation that supports working parents, and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) provider Create Fertility, found that 48% of employers have no official policy in place to support employees undergoing IVF treatment. With many women and men worrying about hampering their career prospects if they tell their employer about their IVF journey, something needs to change.

Starting out

Employers have started to recognise that showing support for fertility and family forming is helpful in recruitment, retention and in reflecting their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. IVF support should arguably begin before any employee knows they need it, by ensuring that everyone is aware of the policies and processes set up in their workplace to make the journey more manageable.

It is becoming more commonplace to hear of employers showing their understanding of the impact of fertility challenges on the workplace and taking positive steps to address it. In anticipation that it will not be long before this becomes expected of workplaces, many have already introduced fertility benefits, says Deirdre O’Neill, chief commercial and legal officer, and co-founder at Hertility.

“Employers are recognising the need to protect their workforce from the burden of shouldering the emotional and financial cost of fertility treatment alone,” she says. “Offering employees the chance to be proactive with their reproductive health and fertility through awareness, education and testing is a preventative pathway that can significantly benefit employees and employers alike.”

Conversations around fertility should create a safe space for employees to be open about their situation or to explore options to consider in the future.

Keeping communications going so that employees always know where they can go for educational resources and information is useful, says Eileen Burbidge, executive director at Fertifa,. “Once someone has started the process, they will most likely experience a combination of physical, emotional and financial strain, so allowances should be made for each of these elements. Employees should not have to feel guilty for taking time off to recover,” she says.

Providers can give women the tools to assess their fertility earlier to prevent costly fertility treatments, rather than solving the problem after it has materialised. “What many employers are beginning to do is give their workforce access to proactive hormone and fertility testing. This way employees feel more informed and empowered to make decisions about their fertility earlier, sometimes eliminating the need to go down the IVF route,” adds O’Neill.

Flexibility around appointments

Employers need to create a culture of openness, where employees know they will be supported in their family plans.

For employees going through treatment, it is important to allow flexibility and paid leave. Francesca Steyn, director of fertility and women’s health at Peppy, says: “One IVF cycle can take up to six weeks to complete, and there will be various time-sensitive appointments at the fertility clinic during this time, so a full day away from work will be needed.”

Policies should outline specific details of flexible working around appointments, says Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director of Create Fertility: “Providing flexible working and paid leave policies specifically designed for staff undergoing IVF ensures that women don’t feel the need to cut down on hours or use their annual leave to attend appointments. While this will often vary on a case-by-case basis, specifically stipulating paid leave for fertility treatment within an employment contract sets a precedent of support and inclusion.”

Emotional support

The emotional toll of infertility and going through fertility treatment is another aspect that employers must consider when designing support packages. Those accessing fertility treatment in the UK through a fertility clinic will receive mandatory counselling with a British Infertility Counselling Association counsellor.

This gives employees the opportunity to discuss the implications of treatment as well as receive emotional support. “Fertility treatment can cause stress, anxiety and in some instances, depression, so it’s really important to offer specialist fertility counselling to those going through fertility treatment but to also offer counselling and a supportive working environment,” Steyn says.

Communicating available support

Some employers choose to either fully or partly fund employees’ treatment, while others will not only pay for the procedures, but will also fund preservation through either egg or sperm freezing. Whichever is offered must be communicated to staff so they know what their options are.

Burbidge recommends holding monthly webinars on a range of fertility-related topics, and client portals and apps that are accessible to all users, so anyone who needs support can access it very easily.

Meanwhile, clearly communicating existing support is instrumental for a progressive employer, with offerings laid out for the workforce to access, says O’Neill. “A designated point of contact, such as HR or via a related network, like a fertility ambassador would be well-versed in fertility policies. An educational offering in place is a suitable way to introduce [a] policy and help staff to understand what support and resources are available.”