Two-thirds (66%) of HR professionals think that fertility support in the workplace, such as flexible working or paid time off, should be considered a statutory right, according to research from LinkedIn.
Its research showed that 69% think that offering fertility support to employees would make the company more competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, 71% think this would make employees happier at work, and 70% think it would make staff more productive.
But the research found that employees feel support is lacking. While half (51%) of employees going through difficulties with fertility have needed to take time off work for medical reasons, only two-fifths (43%) said they feel supported by their manager.
Additionally, 52% of employees said their employer does not have a fertility-related HR policy in place.
In terms of existing support available for employees with fertility issues, flexible working was the most popular option offered (45%). Progress is also being made in more specialised areas such as egg harvesting or freezing services, with 19% of companies now offering this benefit.
However, only 37% of organisations offer financial support to employees going through fertility difficulties and only 25% offer support to same-sex couples.
Employers don't feel confident in knowing how to support employees here, the research suggested. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of HR professionals said that proactively approaching employees with fertility support would feel intrusive, and nine in 10 (91%) felt they would benefit from education and support to help them better understand employee fertility issues.
HR professionals do appear to want to shift the dial, however. Four-fifths (82%) said their organisation is expecting to enhance fertility benefits in the next year, and 45% have already selected what they will offer.
Julia Bueno, a registered psychotherapist and counsellor, said that fertility issues can have a profound effect on the mental health of employees. “There are a cocktail of pressures facing employees who are dealing with fertility issues, which can lead to serious mental health issues, most commonly anxiety and depression," she told HR magazine.
“It’s important to understand that employees will very often be going through a kind of grief. Even those who are getting IVF may have had miscarriages – it’s very complex psychologically.”
There are both personal and professional reasons behind employees' reluctance to speak about fertility in the workplace, Bueno added. “There’s definitely a link between this and discrimination around pregnancy. For some there’s a real fear that if they admit that they want to start a family their job could be at risk," she said.
“It can also feel as if there’s a real injustice. Those who don’t have issues with their fertility don’t have to discuss the intimate details of their personal lives. It’s not that employees don’t want support, but talking about it with their employers can feel far too personal.”
As such Bueno advises that the best thing employers can do is start a conversation. “It’s not an easy subject, and HR don’t have to always get it 100% right. If employers can make it very clear to everyone that they are aware of the issue, that they are open to flexible working, and that employees won’t face disciplinary action if they need to take time off, then that can be a good place to start," she said. "You don’t have to know what to say, but when people have told me that employers have just been willing to listen it makes a huge difference.”
Lisa Finnegan, HR director for EMEA and LATAM at LinkedIn, said employers should raise awareness of the fertility issues people face. “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,” she said.
Finnegan added that employers could start to tackle this by creating an open culture around fertility: "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.”
LinkedIn’s research was based on a survey of 1,000 HR professionals and 4,000 UK workers. Of these 1,000 experienced fertility difficulties, 2,000 were general UK workers and 1,000 didn’t want or were unable to have children. The research was conducted by Censuswide.