Kirstie Axtens: What should employers consider when planning fertility support?

kirstie axtens

Infertility affects one in seven couples, according to the NHS, and research has shown that going through infertility takes a similar emotional toll to going through cancer. As employers focus increasingly on mental health and wellbeing, it is essential that they take practical steps to support staff seeking fertility treatment, and foster a workplace culture of understanding and awareness.

To support the unique needs of those with infertility, employers should offer at least five days of paid time off to staff seeking fertility treatment. Employees should be free to use those days in a way that suits their needs, such as in half-day chunks.

Annual leave should not be used for fertility appointments, because employees should be taking holiday to rest and refresh, not to pursue medical treatment. Partners of those receiving treatment should also receive a small amount of paid time off to attend appointments.

With the physical and emotional toll, and unpredictable nature, of assisted reproduction, all efforts should be made to offer flexible working patterns to employees undergoing treatment, particularly the ability to work from home.

Employers should also consider how they might embed a supportive and understanding culture in their workplace. Building this culture is essential for employees to feel comfortable disclosing their struggle with infertility and to access the help and resources they need. Line managers should be given guidance on supporting their team members who are in treatment, and efforts made to raise awareness of infertility issues.

Larger organisations can offer peer-to-peer support groups, while smaller organisations can signpost employees to sources of information and support.

Kirstie Axtens is head of employer services at Working Families