Over 50,000 people go through fertility treatment each year in the UK, but fewer than half (47%) of those who disclosed it to their employer said that reasonable adjustments were made, according to research from the Fertility network.
So how can HR ensure that employees going through fertility treatment are better supported?
Support does not always mean money
There is a misconception that employers can only support employees going through fertility treatment through funding, according to Holly Evans, head of HR at consultancy Journey HR.
Speaking at the event she said: “There’s this confusion that a fertility policy means an employer is funding treatment. But actually, there are things you can do that don’t cost a huge amount.
“Employees want a supportive and open environment when they’re going through what is usually a hugely difficult time. You can start small with a policy around paid leave and flexibility; there’s no need to be overwhelmed by it.”
Evans added that managers’ and colleagues’ well-intentioned efforts can make people uncomfortable if they are not properly educated about fertility treatment.
She said: “Education is a really important pillar. Both employees and managers want to feel confident talking about their policy and say the right words.
“That means inclusive language, avoiding words like ‘non traditional’ and ‘artificial’ when talking about IVF. It also means we can’t just talk about heterosexual couples. There are people going through this on their own and people in gay and lesbian relationships.”
Jennifer Elworthy, career and fertility coach, added: “It can be really difficult to tell people that you’re going through a fertility treatment because they think it signals that you will be a parent soon. Very sadly, that isn’t always the case and questions around that can be hugely damaging.”
Personalise your approach
There is currently no legal framework for fertility support at work. However, a Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill is currently going through parliament, which would give employees a statutory right to take time off from work for appointments for fertility treatment; and for connected purposes.
Millie Kempley, senior associate at law firm Taylor Wessing, said the lack of legal framework means employers do not know how much support they should be offering.
She added: “Employers will ask, well how much time off for IVF is reasonable? And really, they’re asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’
“The best approach is to converse with employees and ask how they in particular they need to be supported, if they need time off and how much, and take a bespoke approach.”
Elworthy added: “The types of support a person needs truly varies based on what kind of treatment they’re going through and where they are emotionally.
“When I was going through treatment, I needed flexibility for my appointments, but I didn’t want to take a step back. I wanted those big exciting projects to keep my mind off things. Others will be very different.
“It’s about constant dialogue, because as the process goes on, people’s needs may change.”