Since the pandemic, employers have begun to offer a raft of health-related policies and benefits, including support for those experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss.
This trend comes as the Office for National Statistics recently reported that the number of job vacancies in August to October 2021 rose to a new record of 1,172,000 – an increase of 338,000 from the pre-Covid levels of January to March 2020.
With so many opportunities to tempt job seekers – and the heightened, post-pandemic appreciation of health and wellbeing – companies are turning to progressive HR policies and perks to help them stand out.
Why a focus on fertility?
With 1 in 8 couples struggling to conceive, it’s very likely that within your teams there are people dealing with infertility.
As a topic still veiled in stigma, many shoulder the physical and mental rigours of tests and treatments in silence, which can be extremely difficult to juggle with their working lives, causing some to leave their jobs altogether and companies losing out on top talent.
Some of this resistance to speaking out stems from a lack of statutory support for those facing infertility in the workplace. As outlined in my previous blog, currently there is no specific right for employees to take time off for treatments, such as IVF, despite infertility being defined as a disease by the World Health Organization.
Fertility treatments can also carry huge financial burden. IVF is offered on the NHS to patients who meet a specific set of criteria only – and one of these can simply be where you live! For those who fall foul of the postcode lottery, one cycle of treatment can cost £5,000 or more.
In the US, it’s common to see fertility benefits included within the health insurance provided as part of an employment offer. Now companies in the UK, especially those with a US presence, are starting to offer their own substantial benefits, from unlimited phone calls with medical advisors, access to informative webinars, paid leave (currently just a quarter of companies offer leave for couples undergoing IVF), and even covering (or part covering) the costs of tests and treatment.
Indeed, this summer NatWest started offering staff discounts of up to 20% on various treatments, as did British Gas-owned Centrica.
What are the advantages of offering fertility benefits?
- Enhancing inclusivity
Such benefits showcase your company as family friendly and supportive, in particular, of women. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that 40-50% of infertility cases result from male issues. By offering help with treatment costs, you’re also showing your support for families of all kinds, such as single women who currently have no access to fertility treatment on the NHS and same-sex couples who have to jump through many more hoops than heterosexual couples before they’re eligible for support. A same-sex couple are currently suing their local CCG for discrimination having been refused IVF, a case which could provide a landmark ruling for other LGBT+ couples.
- Championing mental health
A survey by Fertility Network UK found 90% of people who had fertility problems reported feeling depressed, with 42% experiencing suicidal thoughts. A supportive and understanding employer could make all the difference to someone’s experience – and their want to stay in work – if they’re struggling on their journey to becoming parents.
- Standing out from the crowd
In the current employment market, such benefits could make your company very attractive to potential job seekers who have learnt valuable work-life balance lessons as a result of the pandemic.
Are there any disadvantages?
Companies should just be wary that fertility benefits are not interpreted as a way to keep women in the workforce, for example, they are not about encouraging employees to freeze their eggs in order to delay parenthood, stay in work for longer and boost their careers.
Women have the right to start families – and take maternity leave – when they like and such benefits should be about enabling that right, not deviating away from it. Similarly, such benefits shouldn’t be seen as putting pressure on people to have children if that’s not what they want.
Is there anything else I should consider?
Many benefits focus on helping to educate people on their fertility or preparing them for treatment. But what happens afterwards?
- Failed treatments
If treatments are successful, then the usual maternity rights offered to women will kick in, but what if treatment doesn’t work? What happens if an employee has decided they’ve come to the end of their journey and are now coming to terms with never having children of their own? Being ready to offer mental health support, such as counselling, will help them as they move on with their life with this new outlook.
- Leave for miscarriage
Sadly, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and this can be particularly devastating for those who suffer loss after experiencing infertility. Currently there is no legal entitlement for anyone, female or male, who loses a baby before 24 weeks to be offered paid leave. However, in September, a bill was introduced to Parliament by MP Angela Crawley arguing for a minimum of 3 days paid miscarriage leave. And some organisations have already taken up the mantle; Barking and Dagenham Council offer a week off work for those who suffer a loss at any stage in their pregnancy.
If you’d like to find out more about fertility benefits and how they could play a part in your inclusivity strategy, then talk to Tell Jane. Get in touch with our experienced HR practitioners by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.