Lovewell’s logic: Should workplace fertility support be a statutory right?

Starting a family is typically looked upon as an exciting, joyous time. For many, however, achieving a successful pregnancy will not be straightforward and may follow an extremely stressful period in their lives.

According to NHS figures, one in seven couples will have difficulty conceiving. This translates to a significant proportion of the working population who may be experiencing difficulties at any given moment. Yet, while employers are increasingly looking at the support they offer to working parents, how many organisations have support mechanisms in place for those at a much earlier stage on their journey to parenthood?

Research published by LinkedIn this week to coincide with Fertility Week (28 October to 3 November) found that 52% of respondents said their organisation does not have a fertility-related HR policy in place, while just two in five of the 4,000 employees surveyed felt supported by their line manager while undergoing fertility treatment.

Yet, despite this, two-thirds of the 1,000 HR professionals surveyed felt that fertility support in the workplace should be considered a statutory right.

The research also found:

  • 51% of individuals experiencing fertility issues have needed to take time off for medical reasons.
  • 71% of HR professionals said employees would be happier at work if they were supported through fertility issues, while 70% thought staff would be more productive.
  • Flexible working is the most commonly offered form of support.
  • 82% said their organisation is expecting to increase the fertility benefits it offers in the coming year.

One of the main challenges for employers in this area is the silence that typically exists around the issue. In reality, how many employees would say that they feel comfortable discussing their fertility with their employer, let alone asking for support? Conversely, LinkedIn’s research also found that 63% of HR professionals felt that proactively approaching employees with relevant support would feel intrusive.

Of course, this is a little bit of a chicken and egg situation; would employees be more willing to speak out or ask for support if it was more openly available in the workplace? In order for conversations to take place comfortably, there must first be an open, welcoming culture in which employees do not feel judged or at risk of reprisals from their honesty.

Employers looking to provide fertility support have a wide range of issues to consider, including individuals’ need for support with physical issues, be it time off for medical appointments or adoption interviews or flexibility in working hours.

Limitations on NHS-funded treatments, meanwhile, may necessitate employees funding the treatment themselves, which can prove a significant financial burden, and subsequent source of additional stress.

Considering mental and emotional support is also vital, particularly if an employee does not experience the outcome they are hoping for.

Of course, this is a deeply sensitive, personal issue for all experiencing it, and every single situation will be different. Inevitably, not all employees will feel comfortable utilising such support, even if it is available within the workplace. Nevertheless, others would welcome support in managing a difficult personal situation alongside their working lives.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell