By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development and Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits
Normalising the conversation around health and work has become a key priority for many organisations, as the pandemic has catapulted employee wellbeing, equality, diversity and inclusion to the top of agendas.
That might help explain why fertility has become a workplace matter too and one that deserves recognition. After all, pregnancy and parenthood are accepted and accommodated in most organisations. Can the same be said for difficulties conceiving and miscarriage?
According to some commentators, women are leading the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ right now, largely for reasons linked to work life balance. It stands to reason, therefore, that those organisations that enable individuals to prosper in their careers through various life chapters and stages will stand a better chance of attracting and retaining people with the skills and potential they need.
While some great improvements have been made in some areas, such as shared parental leave, it’s perhaps difficult to say the same for support for those facing infertility.
According to a 2021 survey from Fertility Network UK, over one third (38%) of employees undergoing fertility treatment considered leaving their jobs. One in five (20%) did not inform their employer about having fertility treatment. And nearly two-thirds (60%) felt the need to hide the real reason for time taken off for appointments and fertility-related illness.
Prevalence and treatment
Of course, it doesn’t just affect women either, although in the large majority of cases it’s necessary for the woman to undergo treatment.
Categorised as a disease of the male or female reproductive system by the World Health Organisation (WHO), infertility affects an estimated 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally. The WHO defines infertility as ‘the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse’.
Treatments can involve a combination of things: from medicines which may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and hot flushes; to surgical procedures; and assisted conception.
Commenting on what employers can do to better support people going through fertility treatment, Jennifer Law, Clinician for Bupa UK Insurance, Generali Employee Benefits Network UK partner for PMI cover for UK employees, said: “The most important way to do this is through normalising the conversation around health at work.
“Whether it’s mental health or women’s health, it’s important for workplaces to be culturally open and supportive of health issues that can impact anyone, at any time.”
How can employee benefits help?
We asked Jennifer what’s covered and what’s not by insurance policies when it comes to fertility. She said: “Every person is unique and so are their healthcare challenges. For many, fertility is a key time in peoples’ lives where they need extra support. This is why we’re seeing a growing demand for Assisted Fertility (AF) services. Businesses can opt-in to purchase our Assisted Fertility benefit for their employees, which provides the resources and support needed to help increase their chances of conception.”
Provided in collaboration with two of the UK’s leading expert fertility providers, Bupa’s Assisted Fertility benefit covers investigations and diagnosis, such as medically necessary blood tests and appropriate investigations. It also covers treatment such as In vitro fertilisation (IVF) and Intrauterine insemination (IUI), with the option to add further cover for egg freezing.
Jennifer adds: “There are some exclusions; surrogacy, treatment abroad and reversal of voluntary sterilisation, for example. But our benefit is non-discriminatory and depending on the level of benefits, we will fund customers regardless of their relationship status; whether a non-binary couple or a single woman wanting to freeze her eggs.”
And what does good employer support look like?
Meanwhile, Dr Kate Bunyan, Chief Clinical Innovation Officer at virtual GP provider Doctor Care Anywhere, one of Generali UK’s Wellbeing Investment Matching partners, helped sum up the impact of infertility on people’s lives and how employers can realistically help.
“Fertility is a complex area that everyone will find themselves dealing with at some point; whether you are worried about your fertility, trying to conceive, or trying not to conceive.
“Fertility treatment puts a significant mental health strain on those who are going through it in terms of the challenges of diagnosis and treatment, the personal thoughts around “why is this happening to me/us”, and the pressure for things to all fall into place at the exactly the right time.
“Then there are the employment challenges and the stigma associated with having children and time off. Employers can help by recognising and talking about the strain fertility treatment puts on people, but by also talking about how it manages the time people might need both during treatment, and also if the treatment is successful.
“Supporting people to understand how their career might still be support by their organisation, even if they do take time out for family changes, can make the stress of fertility treatment a little more bearable. It is important to also appreciate that the stress impacts anyone in the process, regardless of gender or the role they play in it. As I say, fertility is complicated!”