Next week (31 October to 4 November) marks National Fertility Awareness Week. Fertility and trying to conceive often remains a hidden topic, particularly in the workplace, with many employees choosing to keep their journey to themselves. Yet, with fertility issues now facing more than 3.5 million people in the UK, according to the Fertility Network, a significant proportion of the working population is likely to be impacted.
Fertility can be a highly emotive and sensitive issue. Historically, the view that employees who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or have a young family will find their career is negatively impacted as a result has led many individuals to conceal these facts until disclosure is absolutely necessary. According to research conducted by Fertility Matters at Work earlier this year, just under three-quarters (72%) of respondents felt that the topic of fertility was not recognised or valued in their organisation, with many reporting that they are unable to talk to their employer about this. In addition, 61% said they do not feel confident speaking to their employer about trying to conceive.
While a number of employers, including Selfridges, Wickes and Kellogg’s, have introduced dedicated fertility support for employees, it is clear a gap still exists in this area.
Not sharing fertility issues with their employer may also mean employees miss out on valuable support available through the workplace. Having access to benefits such as paid time off to attend medical appointments, flexible working arrangements, discounted fertility treatment, and information or education services can help to lessen the burden on individuals experiencing fertility issues.
Mental health support, such as access to employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or other counselling services, meanwhile, can be invaluable in supporting employees’ mental and emotional health.
While there is still clearly a long way to go before fertility is seen as a mainstream topic of conversation in many workplaces, a number of employers are taking great strides towards this. The key will be to create an open culture where individuals feel supported in starting and participating in such personal conversations.