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Francesca Steyn

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VP Clinical

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Fertility Health Awareness Week: Is your wellbeing offering up to scratch?

It’s time for employers to stop ignoring fertility health in the workplace.
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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently published a new rating system for the fertility treatment add-ons offered by fertility clinics. I was pleased to see this get pushed through by the regulator, particularly as I was involved in the consultations on this system as part of my position as Chair of the RCN Fertility Nursing Forum.

For those undergoing fertility treatment, feeling informed and empowered to make their own choices is so important.

Fertility treatment is a huge economic and emotional investment that involves a ton of information that can be overwhelming, with knock-on effects on the patients’ personal and professional lives.

Difficulty in accessing fertility treatments can have a serious impact on people’s careers. So what can employers do to make sure they’re supporting their staff with fertility health?

Fertility is a fundamental part of healthcare

In the UK, 40% of people aged 25-60 have experienced at least one fertility-related issue. That’s a huge proportion of the working-age population in the country, accounting for millions of people who may have experienced significant distress as a result of fertility problems.

As with all health problems, fertility health doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the stress and anxiety it causes can carry over into the workplace.

Workplaces have to foster an open and safe culture, one where people don’t feel victimised for how fertility health affects them and their work.

In my decades of experience working in fertility health, I’ve often felt that part of the problem is our equation of fertility with infertility. This is a reductive way of thinking about an area of health which encompasses many stages of life and relates to men, women, transgender and non-binary people.

Conditions like PCOS and endometriosis for example, which affect millions of women across the UK, are often treated in isolation and not dealt with as part of a longer fertility journey.

Additionally, topics like baby loss and infertility are too often considered taboo or too difficult to speak about at work, therefore resulting in employees feeling neglected.

For employers, the challenge around fertility health today is manifold, but I think it comes down to two basic principles: education and action.

Education

Senior HR decision-makers and business leaders need to recognise that as well as implementing policies that support fertility health, they should ensure fertility health is actually understood.

Now more than ever, companies should be aware of the active role they play in the health of their employees.

Workplaces have to foster an open and safe culture, one where people don’t feel victimised for how fertility health affects them and their work. Educating staff and upskilling leaders on areas of healthcare that affect their staff is vital for removing taboos and creating an inclusive environment.

Some effective educational steps could include:

  • Inviting fertility health experts to educate employees and managers.
  • Signposting staff via company websites/resources to organisations like Fertility Network UK and Fertility Matters at Work.
  • Holding guidance sessions for managers on how to support staff dealing with fertility issues at work.
  • Encouraging HR leaders to engage with and respond to workplace-related fertility research that can be used to inform future policy-making.
  • Providing a safe space for people to share their experiences and learn from each other, like a recurring meeting or session focused on fertility health.

Action

It goes without saying that for organisations to enact change, they must implement policies that will impact employees at all levels.

Fertility continues to be a hugely important, yet massively neglected area of healthcare.

Companies need to put in place workplace policies that allow for paid time off and flexible working – fertility treatments have a physical and emotional impact that can last a long time and can often lead to people needing to take time off work.

This is highlighted in the data from our upcoming survey on the topic, which shows that a significant number of people would consider taking time off work due to the impact of fertility issues.

Now more than ever, companies should be aware of the active role they play in the health of their employees. Many organisations have already embraced this mindset, and have made strides to put in place healthcare benefits that make a real difference in the health journeys of their staff.

Unfortunately, for many people, accessing fertility treatments, or even guidance on the topic, can still be very difficult. Employers must realise that they have the power to make serious and positive healthcare interventions for their staff which can be the difference between them giving up on fertility treatment or not.

Looking to the future

Fertility continues to be a hugely important, yet massively neglected area of healthcare. A staggering one in six people globally are affected by fertility issues. Employers must take fertility health seriously, and it should be a fundamental pillar of their healthcare offering to employees.

In a 2022 survey of employers in the UK, Fertility Matters at Work found that 64% of those who responded said they did not have a fertility policy in place.

I believe this figure can and must change, and employers play a vital role in changing the conversation around fertility and improving outcomes for couples and individuals undergoing fertility journeys.

Enjoyed this article? Read Five ways employers can support employees with endometriosis.

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Francesca Steyn

VP Clinical

Read more from Francesca Steyn
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