It is said that 1 in 6 couples will experience fertility problems, yet the subject of fertility is still seen as a taboo; one which can feel difficult to talk about from both an employers and an employee’s perspective.
Going through IVF can significantly impact an employee – from needing time off for appointments, to physical symptoms, to the emotional rollercoaster that it can inevitably bring. It’s a time when employees going through fertility treatment will undoubtedly need support, yet – in many cases – they might choose not to disclose it.
In fact almost 30% of employees going through IVF do not tell their employers in fear of the treatment and implications of the treatment negatively impacting their career prospects.
They may decide to confide in you as their line manager, yet might not want other colleagues to find out; which can make it difficult to know how best to support an employee through IVF.
It can be a challenging situation, yet it is one which can be managed effectively with the right understanding, policies and procedures in place.
Here are 7 ways you can support an employee going through IVF.
Learn what employees going through IVF are entitled to
The first point of call, as with any treatment or condition, is to find out what you are required to provide by law. Some areas of fertility – such as adoption and surrogacy – are covered by statutory rights, which means employees are entitled to pay and leave by law. Statutory regulation and law can be quite complex however, so it may be beneficial to speak to your HR department to find out more.
It becomes even more complex when it comes to IVF as there is currently no UK employment rights that covers fertility treatment, meaning that legally you don’t need to give time off for treatment. It is therefore your decision as to whether you choose to provide paid leave, fertility benefits and flexible working to employees going through IVF.
It is however advised that employers should make allowances for fertility related illness or appointments in the same way they would with any other illness, appointments or treatments. If not you could leave yourself open to claims of perceived or actual discrimination.
With the risk of more frequent sickness occurring, which could clash with sickness disciplinary, you may also decide to waive disciplinary procedures around separate periods of absences; instead grouping absences together under the umbrella of ongoing treatment.
This is where having specific policies in place is beneficial, meaning that both you and your employee know where you stand in terms of what they are entitled to, the support they can access and what the financial implications will be.
Know if there is financial support is available
Employees may worry about the financial implications of fertility treatment; not only with the high cost of treatment outside of the NHS, which can start from £5000 per cycle, but in terms of unpaid leave too. It can be helpful to write any financial help into a policy so that your employee knows if some of their time off may be paid, whether there is any other financial help available such as low interest loans or salary advances, as well as reminding them about any counselling available.
Be flexible when and where you can
The very nature of IVF means that employees may need time off at any given moment. The best way to allow for this is to offer flexible working to cover things such as appointments, illness, the treatment itself and emotional distress.
Working from home – if this is possible within their role – on the days when they have appointments or treatment can help employees going through IVF to feel less anxious about taking time away from the workplace. It also enables them to work in a more relaxed way if they are feeling unwell physically or emotionally. Offering flexible hours allows employees to make up for time taken off when they feel able to.
Provide emotional support
It is reported that 90% of fertility patients feel depressed during their IVF journey, with almost half of this percentage reporting feeling suicidal. It is therefore recommended to offer counselling in the lead up to treatment – if an employee has disclosed that they are beginning treatment prior – as well as during and after IVF treatment. Making employees aware of the emotional support you offer, as well as any partner or external companies, should be outlined in your fertility policy.
Put bereavement counselling in place
IVF is not only physically and emotionally demanding on your employee, it can be devastating if unsuccessful too. Whether they fail to conceive, or they successfully conceive yet sadly suffer baby loss, the fertility journey can be as much about loss as it is about life.
Your employee may choose not to share any of their journey, yet ensuring that they know there is bereavement support in place by detailing this into your fertility policy may help them to feel safe telling you.
Help employees to keep working through IVF
Just as with flexible working, adaptations can be put in place where needed to help an employee to continue to work whilst undertaking fertility treatment. IVF patients may feel nauseous, bloated, fatigued, irritable and sore in terms of breast tenderness and from where they administer injections, therefore adjustments may be needed.
Ways to do this could include reducing lifting motions and load, allowing more short breaks, sharing duties with colleagues, offering more ‘back office’ work if their role is customer facing, and any other reasonable adjustments which can be made in line with their specific duties.
It could be good to set up a meeting to talk about their career before or during treatment as a way to reassure your employee that their fertility treatment will not impact their progression, as well as talking through any additional support you may be able to offer.
Offer time out in the workplace
Fertility treatment and medicines can cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting, which your employee may feel self conscious or worried about. It can be beneficial to let them know if there is a quiet room they can sit in if feeling unwell, and that they can go home early should they feel they need to.
It is one thing to ask how employers should support IVF treatment, yet we believe that companies can take this a step further in asking how they can make employees going through IVF feel reassured and cared for.
Here at Apryl we provide inclusive fertility benefits to help you put the policies in place which really matter, policies which will not only benefit you but your employees too. Our mission is to help you create a workplace which puts people and family first, so that your company can attract and keep the best employees without their personal circumstances holding them back.
Get in touch to find out more about how to support your employees through IVF and other family planning methods.