'It must change' | Channel 4, NatWest & more are changing attitudes to staff fertility struggles

Channel 4, NatWest & more are changing attitudes to staff fertility struggles

Major firms have signed a pledge to boost workplace support for employees going through fertility issues.

Household names like Metro Bank, NatWest, the Co-op, Channel 4 and UK Hospitality are among the companies backing the Fertility Workplace Pledge, a set of simple and voluntary commitments, designed to benefit millions of individuals and couples going through fertility treatment.

The campaign was launched last week in Parliament by Nickie Aiken, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster, and comes as 3.5 million people in the UK are struggling to conceive naturally. With treatment such as IVF being emotionally draining and costly, and the risks of complications, it can be a long process.

Juggling treatment and work is very tough. Many people are forced to deal with the side effects, risk of complications, and day-to-day practicalities in silence. They feel they cannot tell their employer for fear of being overlooked for promotion, having major projects taken off them, or being made redundant. Figures show that more than a third (36%) of people going through treatment have considered quitting their job.

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The Fertility Workplace Pledge consists of four steps for employers to sign up to:

  1. Accessible information: Having an accessible workplace fertility policy to create an open culture free from stigma; to make sure employees feel comfortable in the workplace; and to prevent the best talent from leaving.

  2. Awareness in the workplace: Establishing the role of Fertility Ambassador to open conversations internally and make people aware of available support.

  3. Staff training: Making sure line managers understand the realities of treatment for employees including the physical, mental, and financial impact — and how they can support someone going through it.

  4. Flexible working: Giving the right for employees to request flexible working, including reasonable working adjustments, so they can attend appointments.

Commenting on the launch, Aiken said: “Fertility treatment affects millions of people from all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. It is emotionally draining, costly, risky and a long process.

“Undergoing treatment while juggling a career is very tough. Many people feel they cannot tell their employer for fear of being overlooked for a promotion or being made redundant. The number of people hiding it from their employer and taking sick leave is shockingly high. It’s no wonder more than a third have considered quitting their job.

“This must change. Individuals and couples need the right to attend fertility appointments no matter where they work, without fear of being negatively impacted in their career. My Private Members Bill - the Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill - sets out to give individuals and couples the right to take the time off for fertility treatment, just like they would have for antenatal appointments.”

More support needed

The pledge is particularly significant given recent figures which found that almost one third of employers have no plans to offer fertility support to their workers, new research has found.

A study undertaken in September 2022 by digital health app, Peppy, found that this approach may have a detrimental impact on an employer’s ability to both attract and retain staff of child-bearing age, as well as reflect poorly on their overall brand.

Conversely, 39% of employers have either always had employee benefits in place that support staff with their reproductive health, or have put them in place in the past 12 months, but that leaves a significant number of employees without adequate support for their fertility journey now.

Francesca Steyn, Director of Fertility & Women's Health Services of Peppy said: “Up until recently, there has been very little support available for employers to offer people on a fertility journey but when one in six people in the UK2 are affected it’s very much needed. Employers need to recognise that they must be on the front foot when it comes to supporting employees in this area.”

What is workplace fertility support?

Workplace fertility support can cover many areas, including IVF, family planning and adoption through to conditions such as endometriosis that can affect fertility.

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Steyn continued: “Employees who are affected by fertility issues can find it hard to carry on as normal. Side effects of treatment, changes in lifestyle, a reluctance or inability to socialise, fatigue and anxiety can weigh heavily on staff, as can the relentless appointments in numerous healthcare settings.”

Why is workplace fertility support important?

Fertility issues can wreak havoc on the lives of individual employees, and become all-consuming physically and emotionally when their journey doesn’t go to plan. The result is that employees can become distracted, depressed and isolated, which can also potentially make them less productive. Being supported lifts that burden and can also engender loyalty and engagement in the long term. It also helps companies recruit and retain this important demographic, saving the cost and disruption of finding and training new people.

Steyn concluded: “Such is the overwhelming and all-consuming nature of many fertility issues that employees may feel they are unable to remain in the workplace: whether or not they choose to do so will often boil down to how supported they feel.

“Employers who provide genuine family-friendly support from fertility through to birth and beyond, and help their staff feel confident and comfortable discussing these issues will create a caring and inclusive environment – one in which staff are more likely to want to return to after starting their family.”

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Comments (2)

  • Anony
    Wed, 9 Nov 2022 11:08am GMT
    Fantastic moves in the right direction for us who, through no fault of our own, can't have children by conventional methods. It is indeed an emotional journey that completely breaks you in many ways, often repeatedly.

    Having support from the workplace means the world.
  • Sara-Louise
    Tue, 8 Nov 2022 1:51pm GMT
    This is a great move, but it would also be nice for workplaces to realise that, just because some of us are child-free, we don't necessarily want to pick up the slack for people who have or want children. 100% behind this action, but it needs to be handled with consideration for the workforce as a whole.

    Also, a little plea for additional support for menopausal and perimenopausal staff like me, who don't seem to have anything in place to help them to cope with fluctuating hormones, burning rage, hot flushes, and (for some, at least) the devastation that their bodies can no longer give them children.

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