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Fertility treatment should be an employee benefit, say staff

While young workers want employers to offer fertility benefits, experts warn of the ethical and financial risks for both parties

A third (31%) of workers aged 18 to 34 believe that fertility benefits such as egg freezing or subsidised IVF should be offered by employers, according to Willis Towers Watson.

Its research found that the main reason for wanting this benefit is the high cost of private treatment, cited by almost half (47%) of those surveyed. Other reasons included concerns about restricted NHS treatment (43%), the belief that this benefit would support career progression (26%), and that it would reduce time pressures around having children (24%).

The number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England offering the recommended three IVF cycles to eligible women under 40 has halved in the last five years, according to campaigning group Fertility Fairness. Just 12% now follow national guidance, down from 24% in 2013, according to the body.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average age for first-time UK mothers is now 28.8 years, while the percentage of new mothers aged 30 and over has grown by 41% since 1996.

“One in seven UK couples face difficulties trying to conceive, yet restrictions in NHS-funded treatments have been widely reported in recent years with postcode variations in access to services," said Mike Blake, Willis Towers Watson’s wellbeing lead. "Furthermore, the cost of private fertility treatments can be a significant financial burden and in some cases may even prove prohibitive.”

He added: “Increasing numbers of employers across the US are now supporting employees on their path to parenthood, as highlighted by the Willis Towers Watson Maternity, Family and Fertility Survey. Their counterparts in the UK should consider the recruitment and retention benefits of following their lead."

However, Blake said that companies looking to implement such benefits must be aware of the risks involved. Facebook and Google are among those criticised for introducing such policies, with many seeing this as an attempt to keep women in work for longer.

“While companies may appear forward-thinking and supportive by offering fertility treatments employers should tread carefully to avoid a backlash,” added Blake. “The introduction of egg-freezing as a benefit – notably among the tech giants of Silicon Valley – has sparked controversy in some quarters and can risk raising suspicions around employer motivations.”

Speaking to HR magazine, CEO and founder of Parental Choice Sarah-Jane Butler said she believed most employers would be reluctant to introduce fertility treatment support.

“I think this is extremely controversial and could have a lot of consequences. Financially, emotionally and ethically this carries a huge risk for employers and employees. I can only imagine that employers that would want this would be in a very small minority,” she said.

Butler also cautioned that many employees would not appreciate employers' involvement in such a personal aspect of their lives.

“I also think that if the sample of respondents was wider very few employees would want employers to assist with something so personal,” she said.

“This really seems like a last resort. If employers want to do more to support employees with fertility the best thing they can do is look to flexible working arrangements and family-friendly policies, and to signpost to charities and services that might be able to educate and help employees on issues with fertility.”