By Rachel Western, Principal, Aon
A good friend of mine worked for an employer who supported her through one of the most difficult, sad and traumatic times of her life.
She and her partner wanted a baby.
She went through several IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) cycles, experiencing mountainous highs of hope and desperate lows of grief. Her employer supported her at a time when nothing was more important than helping the treatment to work. She needed time away from work, yet because of her employer stance, she didn’t need to lie about it. She could go to appointments, try to relax, working from home if, for instance, facing rush hour was desperately hard when she felt so vulnerable and needed to be calm. Her manager and employer simply understood.
The reality is that one in seven couples in the UK1 will experience fertility issues impacting a vast working population.
The thought that motherhood is a rite of passage for many in most cultures means it impacts how family, friends and colleagues talk about the issue. Yet, infertility remains a largely taboo subject and many couples struggle in silence without valuable support outside of their relationship.
I spoke with Charles Alberts, Aon’s mental health expert, about the emotional toll. He told me that there are so many challenges associated with infertility – for instance, it may be the first health-related issue a couple face together – so can also have a detrimental impact on relationships. People naturally go through feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness, blame and guilt which are harmful to couples’ emotional connection at a time when it’s more important than ever to be there for one another. But couples also face pressures outside of their relationship – work, family, financial and social.
Combined with the pressure of attending numerous appointments and the potential financial strain of treatment, fertility patients commonly experience symptoms of anxiety and depression2. Whilst poor mental health can be caused by the situation, distressingly, it can also impact the likelihood of conceiving3.
Here are key steps employers can take to support their employees.
1. Create an open and supportive culture
In my view, even if an employer makes no changes to their employee benefits package, the most important element is to be open and supportive. This enables individuals – both partners who are trying to have a baby – to discuss their situation with their employer without fear of repercussion.
Awareness for line managers is an important part of this, so that they understand the impact on employees as well as the support available – even that people can attend necessary appointments, consultations and procedures without calling in sick or using annual leave entitlement and that flexible or home working is open to them.
Employers can also alleviate pressure by regularly checking in with the employee and asking them what, if anything, they wish to tell their colleagues.
2. Provide medical coverage options
Understandably, corporate restraints mean it’s not possible for all employers to invest a lot of money into fertility programmes.
The NHS is fairly efficient at investigating and helping people through the beginning of the process, but it can be slow after that and it doesn’t necessarily help with funding.
Private Medical Insurance doesn’t typically cover fertility treatment, although it may help to diagnose an issue and provide surgical intervention for related health issues.
Some employers, therefore, may build financial support into a fertility plan – financially capped as an open-ended benefit would be impractical when the average cost of fertility treatment is approximately £5,000 per cycle and in many instances, multiple cycles are required.
Standalone fertility benefits packages, funded or self-funded, are also an option.
3. Financial support
Fertility treatment is an expense that many couples wouldn’t necessarily plan for when creating long-term goals. So, Martin Parish, an Aon financial wellbeing expert, says that companies can provide support through expert-led financial education programmes – highlighting how saving for unexpected events can help alleviate future financial worries.
Practical financial support can come in the form of workplace saving schemes and low interest loans. These may help employees who are facing high treatment costs and provide financial peace of mind at a time when they inevitably have other emotional pressures.
4. Mental health support
Infertility can and does have a significant impact on the mental health of both partners4, so it is vital that employers consider how employees can be best supported holistically.
Mental health professionals can help with stress, anxiety and depression through interventions such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, positive coping skills, and communication skills which is especially valuable to manage the impact infertility can have on relationships. This support can be provided through employee benefits such as Employee Assistance Programmes and Private Medical Insurance.
It's important too, that employers look at their entire structure that could impact their people on this issue, from policies, absence and flexible working to diversity around men’s and women’s health and benefits as a whole.
I’d encourage all employers to consider the support they can give. Employees impacted need to know that their situation matters and is understood.
After all, if an employee is supported, the loyalty factor is likely to be enormous. In my friend’s case, she continues to talk highly about her employer, long after her emotional rollercoaster has calmed.
For more information or to discuss any of the issues outlined in this article, please get in touch by emailing us at email@example.com or calling us on 0344 573 0033.
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