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Fertility and business: How can managers better support employees?

Line managers need to have better conversations with employees at every stage of the parenting journey, argues Bupa's representative - ©Carlos Duarte/Getty

The delay in women having children can present challenges for both employees and businesses.

The average age of a first-time mother was 26.4 years old 50 years ago, but recently, the average age for women to have their first child is 30.9.

Several factors are driving the delay, including the increase of women going to university or pursuing higher education. It’s also become more difficult to purchase a property, with the average house price in England 8.3 times the average wage, according to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics. Parents may also prefer to consolidate their careers before starting a family.

However, female fertility begins to decline in the early 30s and there is evidence of an age-related decline in male fertility.  Considerations must be balanced with biological reality.

“It can be difficult to reconcile these competing pressures. There may be underlying societal expectations and prejudices to navigate.  There will be women who decide to start their family as a solo parent. Individuals in same-sex relationships may face difficult conversations with family and friends. And people who identify as transgender or non-binary may have additional medical or psychological issues associated with their gender identity to navigate. But whatever the circumstances, things may not go to plan,” says Charlotte Gentry, founder of The IVF Network.

Mental health and wellbeing

As many as one in five women experience mental health problems, most commonly depression or anxiety, during pregnancy or after birth. Triggers can include complications during pregnancy, worries about changing relationships at home and/or at work, anxiety that something will go wrong with the pregnancy, fear of childbirth and feelings of inadequacy around parenting.

“It is important to acknowledge that men can also experience poor mental health at this time. During pregnancy, men have even less control of the outcome. Often, they feel like a passenger on the journey,” says Charlotte.

Mental health can also be impacted by infertility, with almost one in five men experiencing anxiety. Similarly, a study of women attending an infertility clinic found that 40% had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or both.

Charlotte says: “Over this period, employees may need time off or more flexible hours. They would benefit from being able to access wellness and mental health support. Having systems and policies in place to accommodate colleagues sends a clear signal that they are valued.

“It’s also important to be aware that adoptive parents sometimes struggle in the first weeks and months after a child’s placement.”

Family-friendly policies

Family-friendly policies are not only good for employees, but they are also good for business. “Instituting family-friendly measures such as flexible hours, remote work and childcare solutions can reduce staff turnover, improve productivity, and help to attract investment, alongside many other benefits,” says a representative of the World Bank.

“A truly family-friendly approach should begin in your recruitment and onboarding processes, and seep through into everything you do. It’s about fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable talking to you about their plans to start their family, and what support they need. Policies should focus on inclusion and support for all parents, ensuring ongoing open conversations and flexibility rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Rosie Leverton, head of corporate partnerships at the baby loss charity Tommy’s.

Five-point plan to deliver family-friendly policies

The gender equality charity Fawcett Society recommends a five-point plan to deliver family-friendly policies to benefit all parents:

  1. Foster a positive and inclusive culture
  2. Create and communicate clear policies, including an effective maternity policy
  3. Train line managers to actively listen to the needs of parents
  4. Support and promote effective paternity practices and policies
  5. Embed flexible working options that work for parents and your business.

Resources for line managers

For more information and resources to help upskill line managers to have better conversations with employees at every stage of the parenting journey, visit Health Horizons. You can also watch our latest virtual event on family and fertility.