One in eight U.S. couples experience infertility. Research has shown the stress levels of women diagnosed with infertility are equivalent to those with cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. Yet many struggle silently, especially in the workplace.
At Come Recommended, infertility is a deeply personal issue. Our founder and president, career and workplace expert Heather R. Huhman, was diagnosed with infertility in 2012. Over the span of five years, she went through in vitro fertilization seven times, suffered four miscarriages, and gave birth to stillborn twins, Eric and Alexis, before finally having her daughter, Aurora, in January 2016. In June 2015, she launched the popular Beat Infertility podcast and has since become a world-renowned infertility advocate.
Anecdotally, we’ve heard countless times how miserable people were at work because they felt unsupported during their infertility journey, so we set out to find out the true state of infertility in the workplace — and exactly how companies could create an enviable employee experience for these individuals.
Overall, about half (52.9 percent) of respondents were open about their infertility at work and half (47.1 percent) were not. When looking at the entire sample, likely skewed by those open about their struggles, about half (53.2 percent) of women and men feel supported in the workplace by their employers, and co-workers are their best allies (63.5 percent).
But the picture becomes pretty bleak when looking at just the respondents who are not open in the workplace.
Not Open, Not Supported
Infertility causes a range of emotions, varying from sadness and anger to shame and envy — and everything in between. As a result, it’s not surprising nearly half of respondents (47.1 percent) choose not to bring it up in the workplace. Unfortunately, it’s these same individuals who report a poor employee experience.
Only 28.66 percent feel supported by their employer overall and 38 percent feel supported by their direct supervisor. Luckily, the situation is a little improved with co-workers, by whom 43.52 percent feel supported.
The result of these individuals not feeling supported is three-fold:
- They leave: 29.72 percent have quit a job in the past in part because they did not feel supported with regard to their infertility.
- They are actively looking for, or are open to, new job opportunities: 26.85 percent are looking or open because of the company overall, 28.57 percent because of their direct supervisor, and 20 percent of co-workers.
- They stay, even though they are unhappy: 31.85 percent stay to take advantage of infertility insurance benefits.
The question becomes: if an employee is not open about their infertility at work, how can an employer offer them support? The answer lies in creating an employee experience that assumes their workplace is no exception and at least one in eight employees struggle with infertility.
How to Create an Enviable Employee Experience
To truly understand the importance of building an employee experience personalized to those struggling with infertility, we first need to know how much they value feeling supported in the workplace during their journey.
They value feeling supported more than:
- Work-life balance
- A job they like
- Wellness initiatives (such as company-wide step challenges, etc.)
- Perks (such as free lunch, etc.)
Solution #1: Knowledge & Training
Infertility is a disease — as recognized by World Health Organization (WHO), American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) — not a lifestyle choice.
Struggling employees would feel more supported if those around them learned more about infertility and how to talk empathetically about it. These groups should include:
- HR department (47.52 percent)
- Direct supervisor (43.96 percent)
- Co-workers (40.75 percent)
Arming employees with strong resources will foster a more positive and accepting work environment. Without them, employees will likely make false assumptions or unintentionally isolate the employee who is struggling.
Once armed with the basics, instill a workplace culture that discusses topics like pregnancy and family sensitively and empathetically. This does not mean employees cannot discuss their families or their pregnancies ever again. However, it does require a mental shift from assuming everyone who wants children can easily have them.
Unless an employee is open about their infertility, it’s impossible truly know their private struggles. Two questions, for example, to take off the table include “Do you have any kids?” or “Are you planning to have kids?” These seemingly simple small talk questions can invoke quite a bit of pain.If an employee is open about their infertility, this situation too is all about proper etiquette:
If an employee is open about their infertility, this situation too is all about proper etiquette:
- Don’t try to minimize their problem by saying, “Don’t worry about it!” They are going to be stressed and worried. Just listening and being present are much better forms of empathy.
- Don’t try to solve their problem or recommend fertilization methods. Every person’s situation is different, both medically and financially. Plus, the person struggling with infertility knows their options; they’ve heard them all from their doctor.
- Don’t gossip. Learn enough to understand what infertility means, but respect their privacy. The stress and pain of infertility is enough of a struggle, without the additional stress of being talked about at work. If they desire to converse about it, they will bring it up themselves.
Solution #2: Non-Insurance Benefits
Infertility is emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially draining, so offer the right benefits to ease the burden. Companies currently offer most often:
- Health insurance that covers infertility
- Educational resources about infertility
- Employee assistance program
- Employee resource group
These are fantastic benefits greatly appreciated by the infertility community, but they also want:
- Paid medical leave that includes taking time off for infertility appointments and treatments
- Free or discounted services (such as acupuncture, yoga, etc.)
- The option to work from home/telecommute
- Access to a fertility coach
- Egg freezing
#1: Paid medical leave
Unfortunately, the law is unclear about whether the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides protected leave for infertility treatment. However, while perhaps not legally required, instituting a paid medical leave policy that includes taking time off for infertility appointments and treatments would go a long way.
Start by determining which infertility-related appointments and treatments would qualify for paid medical leave. To better understand the process, consider starting an employee resource group (ERG) devoted to infertility or calling around to local clinics.
The more time-consuming and invasive a procedure is, such as in vitro fertilization, the more likely employees will need to take time off work. From there, treat it as any other paid leave policy in terms of how and when to request paid medical leave.
#2: Free or discounted services
Although often debated about whether or not they truly influence the outcome of a fertility treatment cycle, holistic approaches like acupuncture and yoga at a very minimum help relieve stress and instill a sense of “I’m doing everything I can to get pregnant” for those who otherwise do not feel in control of their own bodies.
To offer free or discounted well-being services, sign up for a corporate discount program like Fond or Lifeworks. Alternatively, approach local providers of well-being services about offering bulk discounts or freebies for employees experiencing infertility.
Bonus: All employees will appreciate this perk!
#3: Work from home/telecommute
When undergoing treatment for infertility, many clinics offer basic blood draw and ultrasound monitoring appointments before the traditional workday begins, but if a doctor’s presence is required, those appointments typically take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and can often be last-minute. Especially regarding last-minute time off requests, the conversation about ‘why’ can be awkward.
An official paid medical leave policy for infertility treatments might become less necessary if your workplace offers a combination of flex-time and the ability to telecommute, either permanently or as needed.
This allows employees to work around their appointments and at a time when they’re most productive. After all, according to an August 2016 survey by FlexJobs, only 7 percent of workers say they are most productive in the office.
Bonus: Again, you’ll find all employees love this as an option!
#4: Fertility coaching
Much like a traditional life coach, a fertility coach can help employees with infertility achieve their goal faster and navigate the complex emotions and tough decisions along the way.
Options here include contracting with a company like Progyny to offer employees fertility concierge services (among other benefits), pre-paying for one or more sessions with a specific fertility coach, or purchasing an employee assistance program (EAP) subscription that covers infertility support.
#5: Egg freezing
Companies like Facebook and Apple made headlines for offering employees access to free egg freezing. And it’s not just women who want to delay having a family who could benefit from this service. Employees who are members of the LGBT community, require a gestational carrier, were diagnosed with cancer, and more would greatly appreciate the ability to freeze their eggs.
Egg freezing can cost as much as $10,000 initially, plus an additional $500 to $1,000 per year in storage. However, while an option, of course, your company does not have to offer $20,000 in egg freezing coverage like Facebook. Like some of the other benefits infertile employees desire, consider contacting a provider like EggBanxx or Extend Fertility (offers egg freezing at a steep discount, which as of this writing is $4,990 for a minimum of 12 frozen eggs, in up to 4 cycles) to discuss corporate package options.
While it’s not necessary to offer each of these benefits to employees dealing with infertility, every little bit counts in creating a better employee experience. Start by analyzing what your organization can afford and which benefits make sense to pursue as a result. Then, re-evaluate these offerings annually to be sure you’re providing the best support possible.
Solution #3: Health Insurance
Of those with access to health insurance that covers infertility, the most popular plans were:
- Lifetime maximum of $25,000
- All services covered
- Lifetime maximum of $10,000
Currently, only 15 states require insurance coverage for infertility treatment, and laws vary widely. Even though it may not be mandated, adding infertility coverage to your health insurance plan has many benefits — and doesn’t cost as much as you think.
Here are the facts:
- 91 percent of employers offering infertility treatment have not experienced an increase in their medical costs as a result
- Patients with infertility benefits electively chose to transfer 1 embryo/cycle significantly more often than patients with no coverage, thereby reducing costs due to multiple births
- Infertility coverage can be provided at less than 1 percent of total premium cost
- Only one in three women who seek infertility services require treatment beyond basic medical advice
Work with your health insurance provider to review whether your current plan covers infertility treatment services. Then, assess employee needs and identify any gaps. Determine what you are doing well and what may be missing.
Providing access to evidence-based infertility care can help employees make better treatment decisions, as well as lead to employee satisfaction. Addressing infertility can also help attract and retain valued employees, so there’s no reason not to explore the options.
For employees dealing with infertility, support from employers can mean all the difference. This support can range from providing key health benefits to offering non-insurance benefits to simply educating HR departments, supervisors, and co-workers on infertility in the workplace.
Taking the time to understand these employees’ unique struggles and working to provide the necessary support will go a long way in creating a strong employee experience and an even stronger employer brand.
About the Survey
The survey was conducted in March 2017 by Come Recommended and is made up of responses from 1,000 women and men who have been diagnosed with infertility and work in the United States.
About Come Recommended
Come Recommended, a research and marketing company, is led by career and workplace expert Heather R. Huhman.
Working exclusively with job search and HR technology companies, Come Recommended conducts original research and produces and shares reports that tell unique stories. Each deliverable in our pre-defined content marketing and PR packages is based on a proven, repeatable process designed to align with, expand upon, and complement current marketing efforts.