One in seven couples in the UK1 will experience fertility issues, impacting a vast working population, and according to Aon, employees need to know that their situation matters and is understood. The global professional services firm also says employers that provide support can help maintain productivity, which needs to be a consideration from a business management perspective.
Rachel Western, principal of Aon, says:
“The thought that motherhood is a rite of passage for many in most cultures means it impacts how family, friends and colleagues talk about the issue. Yet infertility remains a largely taboo subject and many couples struggle in silence without valuable support outside of their relationship.
“The diagnosis of infertility could result in a tremendous impact on the emotional and psychological wellbeing of an individual, often exacerbated by the financial stress created due to the cost of treatment options. Treatment, too, can be time consuming and result in reduced productivity at work and increased absences.”
Combined with the pressure of attending numerous appointments and the potential financial strain of treatment, fertility patients commonly experience symptoms of anxiety and depression2. Whilst poor mental health can be caused by the situation, distressingly, it can also impact the likelihood of conceiving3.
Here are key steps employers can take to support their employees:
Create an open and supportive culture
Even if an employer makes no changes to their employee benefits package, the most important element is to be open and supportive. This enables individuals – both partners who are trying to have a baby – to discuss their situation with their employer without fear of repercussion.
Awareness for line managers is an important part of this, so that they understand the impact on employees as well as the support available – even that people can attend necessary appointments, consultations and procedures without calling in sick or using annual leave entitlement and that flexible or home working is open to them.
Employers can also alleviate pressure by regularly checking in with the employee and asking them what, if anything, they wish to tell their colleagues.
Provide medical coverage options
Understandably, corporate restraints mean it’s not possible for all employers to invest a lot of money into fertility programmes.
The NHS is fairly efficient at investigating and helping people through the beginning of the process, but it can be slow after that and it doesn’t necessarily help with funding.
Private Medical Insurance doesn’t typically cover fertility treatment, although it may help to diagnose an issue and provide surgical intervention for related health issues.
Some employers, therefore, may build financial support into a fertility plan – financially capped as an open-ended benefit would be impractical when the average cost of fertility treatment is approximately £5,000 per cycle and in many instances, multiple cycles are required.
Standalone fertility benefits packages, funded or self-funded, are also an option.
Fertility treatment is an expense that many couples wouldn’t necessarily plan for when creating long-term goals. So, Martin Parish, an Aon financial wellbeing expert, says that companies can provide support through expert-led financial education programmes – highlighting how saving for unexpected events can help alleviate future financial worries.
Practical financial support can come in the form of workplace saving schemes and low interest loans. These may help employees who are facing high treatment costs and provide financial peace of mind at a time when they inevitably have other emotional pressures.
Mental health support
Infertility can and does have a significant impact on the mental health of both partners4, so it is vital that employers consider how employees can be best supported holistically.
Mental health professionals can help with stress, anxiety and depression through interventions such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, positive coping skills, and communication skills which is especially valuable to manage the impact infertility can have on relationships. This support can be provided through employee benefits such as Employee Assistance Programmes and Private Medical Insurance.
It’s important too, for employers to look at their entire structure and identify where this issue could be impacted, from policies, absence and flexible working to diversity around men’s and women’s health and benefits as a whole.
Given this emotional and financial pressure, employers who think about ways to support individuals are likely to be viewed favourably by employees. After all, if an employee is supported, the loyalty factor is likely to be enormous.