1 in 5 UK employees concerned about missed career opportunities due to fertility struggles

A new study reveals widespread worries that fertility struggles are interfering with career aspirations.

A new study reveals widespread worries that fertility struggles are interfering with career aspirations.

Only 16% of companies have supportive policies in place for employees who are struggling with their fertility, according to the 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey. This is despite a new report from WHO which found 1 in 6 people worldwide are affected by infertility.

Additionally, only 1 in 4 people received compassionate leave or paid time off for their fertility appointments. The news follows the proposal of a new Fertility Treatment Employment Rights Bill to give employees a statutory right to take time off work to attend fertility clinic appointments.

The 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey was conducted by Fertility Family, experts in supporting those trying to conceive, to uncover whether such a common issue is taken into account in the workplace. The survey gathered insight from 248 UK employees who’ve experienced difficulties in the workplace because of their fertility journey to gain more insight into how UK companies can better support their employee’s fertility struggles in the workplace.

The study also found employees feel forced to lie to their employers and fear for their careers because of infertility stigma:

  • 20% of employees would rather call in sick than inform their employer of a fertility appointment (rising to 44% for those aged 45-54 years old)

  • 1 in 16 employees felt the need to delay their fertility journey until they were in a senior role so they would be ‘taken seriously’ by their company

  • 1 in 5 employees surveyed feared they would miss out on future opportunities if their employer knew about their fertility struggles

One anonymous respondent shares their experience of ‘career fear’ during their fertility journey:

“I initially discussed my fertility issues with my line manager [who] was flexible and supportive when it came to attending my appointments. However, this discussion happened just 3 months after starting my job. She did mention to not share this yet with the higher management as it may jeopardise my career and growth in the company.

“I had issues with the company’s lack of support and knowledge with infertility. I feel like women, especially, are scared to be open to this topic in the fear of losing career opportunities. I definitely struggled in this aspect and how I would balance my goals between work and fertility. I hope that there will be a time when women won’t have to choose between their general health and career.”

What employees want from their companies

Findings from the 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey show that only 1 in 4 of those surveyed felt that their company understood and supported them. Employees most want employers to provide flexible working (77%) to allow employees to leave for fertility-related appointments.

Over half of employees believe paid compassionate leave should be provided to those who are struggling with their fertility. Similarly, 41% of employees agree that financial support and fertility counselling (34%) should be provided for employees undergoing fertility treatment. More than a third of employees want line managers to receive training about fertility issues and how to address these conversations with colleagues, as only 2% of line managers have received this training.

Kate Palmer, Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, says: “It can be daunting for an employee to share details of their health, particularly with sensitive conditions like fertility, so it’s important to create a culture of open communication and support. Doing so allows employees to ask for the help they need, which in turn contributes towards increased productivity, satisfaction and retention.

“Introducing mental health first aiders and/or appointing fertility or women’s health champions can be a great starting point for raising awareness about, and showing support for, those experiencing fertility struggles. Such people can be a point of contact for those who may not want to discuss this with a line manager or member of the HR team.

“A fertility policy which incorporates the support measures available for individuals who face difficulties in this area can be greatly beneficial in helping affected employees feel confident and comfortable whilst at work. It also raises awareness of the struggles employees must manage, to help colleagues and managers know how to provide compassion and care.

“Employers should also ensure that all senior members of staff are trained on how to discuss health conditions in the most effective and empathetic manner. Managers who are not given adequate support and resources to hold such conversations may unintentionally cause more harm than good, so it’s really important that attention is given to this area.”