Businesses need to consider offering fertility treatment as a benefit

More employers should understand the importance of supporting staff who experience difficulties becoming parents, argues Charlotte Gentry

Becoming a parent is one of the biggest steps in life and one of the most rewarding experiences in the world. For those who cannot conceive naturally, IVF can quite literally deliver miracles. Yet when it fails, it can also result in crushing lows and colossal disappointment.

Sadly, one in six couples will experience trouble conceiving. Matters are made worse by the fact that in the UK, the postcode lottery for NHS fertility treatments, alongside the steep costs of private healthcare, has created a growing inequality in the fertility sector. Many men and women cannot access medical treatments due to a lack of funds, where they live, or the fact they are not in a relationship. These issues have been further exacerbated during the pandemic, with delays to IVF treatment predicted to reduce the number of live births in women over 40 by almost a quarter. 

Sadly, these fertility issues are still overlooked and neglected by most UK businesses. Recent research has revealed that just over a third (36 per cent) of companies do not offer fertility support to their employees, nor have plans to provide it in the near future. With more than 3.5 million people in the UK being affected by fertility issues, this is deeply concerning and serves as a stark reminder of the need to promote and support employees undergoing fertility treatment. 

The announcement that Kellogg’s intends to provide staff with fertility, menopause and miscarriage leave is a welcome change, but more corporates need to follow in its footsteps. As it stands, most workplace employee protection policies exclude ‘elective’ medical processes, putting fertility treatment on a par with cosmetic surgery. This needs to change. Currently, there is no legal entitlement for people who lose a baby before 24 weeks in pregnancy, despite one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage. Legislation has been proposed at Westminster to entitle parents to a minimum of three days’ paid miscarriage leave, but no decision has been made so far.

Some firms have responded to these issues by introducing fertility packages of more than $25k to cover the cost of IVF for employees during the pandemic. Such gestures should not be underestimated and have been instrumental in providing a financial lifeline for many couples. However, it must not be forgotten that IVF is an emotional journey, as much as it is a financial one, so corporate benefit solutions must also include emotional provisions for staff. 

Companies that utilise these 360-degree services will help to reduce the burden on women and couples undergoing the treatment. For too long, those going through fertility treatment have had to deal with the highs and lows in private. For instance, a recent survey revealed that more than 40 per cent of women do not disclose their fertility treatment to employers because of fears it will affect their careers. By battling these issues in private, employees are subject to undue stress that can affect their work productivity. I can testify to this from my own first-hand experience. The desire to be a mother can be all encompassing; hence line managers need to be aware and take this into account. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have not only thrust employees’ mental and physical health into corporate conversations, accelerating a trend towards benefit packages that include fertility treatments, but they have also empowered workers to demand and expect more from their employers. With the rise of the ‘Great Resignation’, we have seen that if companies are not willing to introduce perks tailored to their staff, workers will move on. For organisations to compete in hiring and retaining great talent, they need to come around to the idea that a company’s benefit scheme needs to be inclusive and cover everyone’s needs. Fertility treatment is a vital component of here and is all the more necessary amid increasing fertility pressures and longer waiting lists post pandemic

Charlotte Gentry is founder of The IVF Network