Home Health & Wellness The UK’s Largest Ever Survey: Nearly 80% of People Consider Fertility Support at Work as Important

The UK’s Largest Ever Survey: Nearly 80% of People Consider Fertility Support at Work as Important

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Capping off Fertility Awareness Week, a nationwide survey commissioned by Fertifa and Fertility Network UK has collected more than 3,600 responses to reveal the profound and extensive impact of fertility challenges on individuals in the workplace. This is the largest survey ever conducted in the UK on fertility for working professionals, and the results are too significant to ignore.

Three out of four (75%) people who went through fertility challenges said that their productivity at work was strongly impacted. Despite this, over one-third of these people said that they received very little or no support from their employer. This reveals the serious lack of workplace support, as people struggle to manage necessary medical care with their work lives, leaving employees feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.

The impact of this can be hugely detrimental to an individual’s long-term career. Almost 1 in 5 (18%) people quit their jobs or took a significant change in responsibilities because of the impact fertility treatment was having on their lives.

Amber Mortelman, one of our survey respondents, said, “My journey has been 10 years and counting, with 23 rounds of IVF and eight miscarriages. My experience has been different with each employer.”

The research shows that fertility challenges are having an enormous impact on working lives, but this impact is especially seen in the absence of workplace support. Jodie Nicholson, another survey respondent, said, “The pressure of work and lack of manager understanding impacted me negatively. I took a lengthy absence (sick leave) and was subsequently threatened with disciplinary action and dismissal.”

The survey findings also highlight that people who go through fertility challenges do not feel comfortable speaking to their employer about what they are experiencing. Almost one-third (30%) of people took time off from work without telling their employer that the real reason was for fertility treatment. They took annual leave, sick leave, or unpaid leave instead.

Employees are struggling through these challenges in silence. Stephanie White, yet another respondent, shared her own experience: “I used all of my annual leave for fertility treatment, so when I eventually needed a break, I couldn’t take one, and that was mentally exhausting.”

These numbers show that barriers around fertility challenges are still very much alive in UK workplaces and around the world. Employers have a long way to go in creating workplace cultures that successfully normalise fertility challenges. Another respondent, Jade Archibald, said that her unsupportive workplace “made things a lot harder” to the point where she changed jobs towards the end of her treatment.

With fertility challenges disproportionately impacting women in the workplace, this confirms the gender-health gap and reaffirms how important it is for employers to implement fertility support to create inclusive workplaces.

The hidden costs of fertility treatment extend far beyond the treatment in itself; the financial impact of fertility challenges can be long-term, with the data showing that people (often women) are having to take unpaid leave or go down to part-time work to cope with fertility challenges. To compound this, people are not prepared for the financial impact of fertility challenges, with 95% of women surveyed saying they were not prepared financially for fertility treatment.

Laura Johnson, a survey respondent, said, “There are lots of appointments during your 9–5 days. Working full time makes it feel impossible, and I have to make up hours at work for appointments. Fertility is not considered a medical condition.”

The huge response rate demonstrates that people want to talk about their experiences and how profound the impact of fertility challenges has been. It shows that people want to drive change for others who will go through similar challenges, such as IVF, pregnancy loss, and unexplained infertility.

Eileen Burbidge, Director of Fertifa, said: “After a week of strong advocacy and activities to amplify the fact that 3.5 million people in the UK are currently experiencing fertility challenges, this survey in partnership with Fertility Network sharpens the focus on how workplaces and employer policies affect wellbeing and outcomes for individuals. We already knew that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, 40% of heterosexual couples’ challenges are male factor-related, and all LGBTQ+ individuals will need some form of support to start a family, but now we also know quantitatively just how impactful this can be on work productivity and the role companies can play to support.”

Dr Catherine Hill, Fertility Network’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “Fertility Network and Fertifa’s survey reveals the shocking lack of workplace support for fertility patients as they juggle necessary medical care and work, and the continued stigma around fertility treatment in the workplace. Fertility patients should not feel they have to lie to their employer about taking time off work for reproductive health issues or use annual leave for medical appointments.

As the national charity, we know how traumatic infertility can be, and we urge employers to be forward-thinking and implement family-friendly fertility policies detailing how many days of fertility leave employees are entitled to, as well as developing a work environment that understands the impact of infertility and its treatment. Enshrining reproductive health rights in workplace policies is long overdue, and employers need to foster a culture of transparency so women and their partners feel able to speak up about their reproductive health treatment. Our pioneering Fertility in the Workplace initiative provides help in supporting staff and improving understanding in the workplace.”

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