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The family at work - fertility matters

Does your organisation have a fertility policy? If not, it’s a good idea to introduce one.

Fertility treatment is on the rise. Whether this is due to professional women delaying starting a family to focus on their careers, people finding long term partners later in life and therefore having a baby later, same sex couples having children, women deciding to have a child without a partner, the fact that our 21st century lifestyle is increasing infertility, or simply because people are now talking about infertility issues more so we are more aware of it. Whatever the reason/s, the fact is that more people are undergoing treatment to help them have a baby.

Following Fertility Week at the end of 2019, in which LinkedIn conducted a poll, 1,000 out of 4,000 employees said they had fertility problems; 51% of those said they needed time off work for medical reasons; yet only 43% of that group said they felt supported by their managers.

Some employers are leading the field by introducing fertility leave policies in which employees are entitled to an amount of paid leave to attend appointments and recover from procedures. Some large tech employers such as Google, Apple and Facebook have, since as far back as 2014 in the US, paid for employees to freeze their eggs. Granted, this was initially due more to employees undergoing chemotherapy and therefore wanting to freeze their eggs before treatment started to enable them to have a baby afterwards. However, as women’s fertility goes into steady decline after the age of 35 and falls even more rapidly after 40 – around the age when many professional women are progressing in their careers – the perk has had a wider benefit than was first intended. Some cynics would argue that the policy allows these companies to get the most out of their employees while they can without having to compete with outside priorities (children and child care do not fit neatly in with the world of work) yet the benefit has at least brought more awareness to the issue. Yet despite there being a recognition of the issue, very few UK employers have a fertility policy.

To some, a policy has little or no importance if their employer, line manager and team are supportive and allow the employee the flexibility they need when going through treatment. I was one of those fortunate individuals – I had a very understanding manager and supportive team so I knew I didn’t need to worry about coming in to work late after attending the clinic for scans. However, I did feel I should carry on regardless and manage work with fertility treatment. In some respects, it was great to have something else to do and to think about but it was incredibly draining at times – emotionally, physically and mentally – as you can’t underestimate the rollercoaster of emotions which hopefully lead to a positive outcome but can also unfortunately come to nothing. During my IVF journey or experience, I encountered both incredible sadness and loss as well as elation and joy, all while doing my best in a high pressured, high profile job.

Now me sharing the above wasn’t intentional when I set out to write this article but it does at least give one employee’s account of what the experience is like.

I would strongly encourage employers to think about introducing a fertility policy, if nothing else to let employees know that they can speak to someone about it if they choose, that they won’t be treated differently or suffer any discrimination for undergoing treatment, and that they are able to take time off. The policy should apply equally to all. While there is no statutory right, at present, to take time off to attend appointments, etc. (if employees are ill following treatment, they can take sick leave) this issue is becoming more and more prevalent in workplaces.

Introducing a policy and briefing managers on it is a great way to show that your organisation is forward-thinking and supportive of its staff. If you are doubtful that this would be relevant and welcomed by your staff, it may be a good opportunity to ask them by holding focus groups to understand what could make their working lives a better fit with their home lives and commitments. You may get some really useful intel in the process too.

Please do get in touch if you are considering introducing a policy, have done so or if you wish to speak about this issue further.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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