Employees undergoing fertility treatment lack support, says survey

Majority of HR professionals say they would benefit from education to better understand issues

Employees struggling with fertility problems or going through fertility treatment are not getting the support they need from their employers, a survey has found.

In the poll of 4,000 UK employees, released to coincide with Fertility Week, among the roughly 1,000 who experienced fertility problems, 51 per cent said they needed to take time off work for medical reasons, but just two in five of that group (43 per cent) said they felt supported by their managers.

More than half (53 per cent) of workers said their employers did not have a fertility-related policy in place.

In the survey, conducted by LinkedIn and Censuswide, the vast majority (91 per cent) of the 1,000 HR professionals also polled said they would benefit from education and support to better understand employee fertility issues.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of HR professionals also thought fertility support in the workplace should be considered a statutory right.

Gwenda Burns, head of operations at charity Fertility Network UK, said it was vital employers worked to reduce the stigma of discussing fertility problems at work “so that everyone has the best chance of getting the support they need”.

Burns said: “The decision to tell your employer you are having fertility struggles is a personal and difficult one, but having someone to talk to either within or outside your workplace can go a long way to easing the stress and loneliness that people in this situation often feel.”

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Previous research by Fertility Network UK estimated that 3.5 million people in the UK were affected by fertility issues, and that one in five (19 per cent) of those struggling to conceive had naturally reduced their working hours or quit their jobs during fertility treatment.

Employees currently have no statutory right to take time off work to undergo IVF treatment; however, Fertility Network UK recommended employers treat fertility issues in the same way as any other medical issue and provide employees the flexibility they require around treatments.

A woman is considered legally pregnant as soon she has had an embryo implanted. But because it can take around two weeks after transfer to tell if an embryo has successfully implanted, Acas recommends employers regard a woman as pregnant the moment she has treatment to avoid any risk of maternity discrimination. 

The LinkedIn poll found that many businesses already offered considerable support. Of the HR professionals surveyed, 45 per cent said they had flexible working options in place for those undergoing fertility treatment, 43 per cent offered flexible working for workers going through adoption and 40 per cent provided flexibility for those going through surrogacy.

Just over a third (37 per cent) offered financial support for fertility treatment, with fewer employers (25 per cent) providing fertility support to same-sex couples. Just 19 per cent offered egg harvesting or freezing services.

Lisa Finnegan, senior HR director at LinkedIn, said: “We need to raise awareness of the diverse fertility journeys that people undergo so they feel comfortable starting the conversation at the beginning of that journey.

“It’s so important that businesses build an environment of support for everyone in their workforce, and that HR professionals have the tools they need to approach these sensitive conversations in the right way.”