There’s a new dawn breaking on employee benefits, as companies up their game to attract the best professionals. Up until recently, benefits typically included a staff discount, gym membership, cycle-to-work scheme and company pension scheme enrolment. While these examples are all well and good, things have moved on, with jobseekers actively looking for employers that cater for their individual needs.
Fertility benefits are among the new generation of wellbeing offerings that are dramatically raising the bar for discerning jobseekers. Offered by a growing number of UK businesses, following in the footsteps of some major US employers, these family-planning perks have real appeal to professionals, regardless of their life stage. But are they just a passing trend?
We spoke to Jamila Lecky, Chartered MCIPD, Group Reward Consultant at Mott MacDonald, for her thoughts on fertility benefits.
Q. Fertility benefits seem quite a new thing. How did they come about?
A. Fertility employment benefits are relatively new but have come about due to a number of factors. There are more than three and a half million people in the UK with fertility issues, with the majority in employment, and 40% of this group being men. The so-called ‘war for talent’ also means organisations are having to find more innovative ways to attract the best talent.
Q. How do you know fertility benefits are really something jobseekers and employees in the UK are interested in?
A. Fertility benefits can be beneficial to both those who want to start a family, and single individuals. This can range from initial fertility investigations to check there are no concerns, through to fully or partially covering IVF interventions. Additionally, recent research by UK virtual fertility clinic Apricity, found 82% of respondents who’d already undergone IVF would not consider working for a company that didn't offer fertility benefits.
Q. What might fertility benefits include?
A. Fertility benefits can range from paid time off to attend appointments, access to counselling, partial or full IVF funding, at-home fertility testing kits, remote and in-person consultations and diagnostics, or even partial or full funding for egg freezing.
Q. Is it likely fertility benefits will become standard in the UK – why should employers look to introduce them?
A. The hope is that it will become standard. There are many individuals campaigning for this, who have the backing of MPs like Nickie Aiken with her Fertility Treatment Employment Rights Private Members’ Bill, currently going through Parliament to ensure those going through IVF are automatically given the right to paid leave for medical appointments.
Nickie has already created the Fertility Workplace Pledge, which asks UK employers to sign up to the four voluntary commitments of having accessible information, building awareness in the workplace, training staff on the realities of fertility treatment, and giving employees the right to request flexible working from day one. With some big-name organisations having already signed up, it’s only a matter of time before others follow.
Q. As a tool for attracting talent, these benefits will mean companies with the biggest budgets will benefit the most while smaller firms that can’t compete lose out. What can be done to remedy this – is offering just one or two benefits acceptable?
A. It’s important to be clear that fertility benefits don’t always have to mean organisations spending thousands to fund treatments - although that would be a significant and impactful benefit for most people, especially during this cost-of-living crisis.
Low-cost options include having a fertility policy in place that is clear on time off to attend appointments and providing counselling services - which 80% of respondents in the Fertility Network UK’s research said they would utilise if it was free. A great option one of our steering committee members provides for employees in his small business, is a fertility treatment loan, similar to a train season ticket loan, where the employee pays it back, interest-free, over a period of time.
Q. How should employers best go about finding the right provider for these benefits?
A. There are some great organisations out there giving independent advice on providers such as Fertility Network UK, the British Fertility Society, and Fertility Matters at Work, to name a few.
Q. What should employers/HR teams/managers do to support people undergoing treatment?
A. Employers should have a fertility policy in place first and foremost. This clearly signposts employees to how the organisation will support with fertility issues, whether that’s now or in the future.
HR teams need to ensure managers are appropriately equipped to support employees, with training on how to have difficult conversations, creating a safe space for what is often an emotional and unpredictable time.
For most navigating their fertility, it can put a strain on their physical, mental and financial wellbeing, with 83% of respondents in Fertility Network UK’s research saying they felt sad, frustrated and worried often or all the time as a result of fertility problems and/or treatment.
This same research found 58% felt concerned that treatment would affect their career prospects, while 36% felt their career was damaged as a result of treatment. It’s therefore imperative managers ensure they are reassuring employees that undergoing fertility investigations or treatment will not be detrimental to their careers.
Q. You’re on the steering committee of the Workplace Fertility Community – what does the group do?
A. I joined the Workplace Fertility Community in September 2022, and am very proud to be working with like-minded people who are all trying to drive the conversation around infertility and help dispel the taboo around the subject.
Our aim is to promote and raise awareness of the need for appropriate fertility support for employees by opening the conversation and providing resources and support to HR professionals, and those championing the issue of infertility within their organisations.
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