- Line managers should have additional training to help someone in their team who might be experiencing a fertility challenge or a pregnancy loss.
- Offering paid leave for fertility treatment and pregnancy loss is a good start, but employers should also make sure their policies include flexible working, support groups and counselling.
- Whatever initiatives are introduced, it’s important that it’s not just seen as a tick-box exercise.
Support for employees going through fertility issues or pregnancy loss is a topic that is generally not really considered until it is actually being experienced. It may benefit businesses to have assistance and advice for this in place. Here are some top tips for employers that want to support their staff with these issues.
Review and update existing support
Perhaps the most logical first step for businesses would be to review their existing policies and update them, before communicating the changes in an effective way.
Hema Wara, HR and client services director at Fertifa, explains that for people who don’t have experience of fertility issues or pregnancy loss, it can be hard to understand what a difference it makes by having this support from an employer. “An organisation-wide presentation or workshop is a good place to start. HR and line managers should also have additional training to help someone in their team who might be experiencing these challenges,” she says.
Putting processes in place for parents on complex pregnancy journeys will encourage anyone struggling to reach out and help them feel confident in doing so. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution for such varied and deeply personal experiences. Flexibility is key to giving families the right support,” says Jacqui Clinton, director of Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting At Work service. “As blanket rules inevitably become restrictive in certain situations, we want to help [employers] empower their workforce to have open and honest conversations, breaking down the taboo to create a more open and supportive culture. Policies are important but they are early steps on the road, not a magic bullet.”
Employers can use a range of schemes or methods to encourage staff members to ask questions, says Francesca Steyn, director of fertility services at Peppy. “We hold launch webinars, where employees are encouraged to join, learn about the support available and ask questions in a safe setting,” she says. “We also engage remote workforces with intranet resources, introductory videos and tip sheets for line managers, to kick-start the conversation around fertility across the organisation. Employers should know that introducing fertility and pregnancy loss support doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or even expensive.”
Support can be viewed as an investment in employee wellbeing, so all staff are aware and can easily access it when needed. Clare Worgan, training and learning resources manager at the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, suggests that employers implement a compassionate and comprehensive baby loss HR policy. “This should have a paid-leave provision that recognises the impact pregnancy loss can have on the physical and mental health of an employee, whether the employee was pregnant themselves, a partner or if they had a surrogate,” she says.
Introduce practical initiatives
Ensuring all members of staff are trained and educated will help raise awareness and create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing personal issues.
Wara has seen several businesses successfully set up internal fertility support networks, which offer an avenue for employees to share their experiences and help them feel less isolated. “We are now seeing a number of organisations taking this support further and adopting fertility benefits. Whatever initiatives are introduced, it’s so important that it’s not just seen as a tick-box exercise. It should always be an ongoing effort to educate, communicate and listen to feedback,” she explains.
Employers can lead by example and promote open talks about fertility and pregnancy loss by giving staff the chance to speak about their challenges.
Worgan explains that Sands’ training for bereavement in the workplace explores the different experiences of loss and how to develop the communication skills to have compassionate conversations with individual employees. “We recommend ensuring any employee assistance programme includes counselling services for those affected by baby loss, although this should not just be available to those who are directly affected, but also the wider staff body. Also make sure any customer-facing staff understand the implications of baby loss when it comes to customers or clients, for example, how to communicate sensitively if a customer advises they have lost a baby,” she says.
Promote available benefits
Larger organisations tend to have a baby loss advocate or a group of employees who are equipped to support those affected by baby loss. This is similar to a mental health first aider, who listens and guides both managers and staff.
In addition, some employees have access to a range of educational materials and direct access to doctors and fertility specialists, who offer personalised support with any aspect of reproductive health.
At-home fertility testing kits for both men and women are also available; employers can encourage staff to be proactive about their reproductive health. “Additionally, we advise on fertility preservation, surrogacy and adoption, making it a truly inclusive service,” Wara adds.
Employers may want to look for solutions that are inclusive, accessible and trustworthy. Online support can be highly effective and enable employers to support everyone in their organisation. Steyn says: “Offering paid leave for fertility treatment and pregnancy loss is a good start, but employers should also make sure their policies include flexible working, support groups and counselling.”