The UK’s largest ever survey on fertility in the workplace finds that nearly 80% of people cite that fertility support at work was important to them when considering a new job
Capping off Fertility Awareness Week, a nationwide survey, commissioned by Fertifa and Fertility Network UK, has collated 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 career long-term. Almost one in five (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 8 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. As 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 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.
Detailed findings of the survey include:
- Three out of four (75%) people who went through fertility challenges said that their productivity at work was significantly impacted.
- Despite the number people significantly impacted by fertility challenges, more than one-third (37%)of these people said that they received very little or no support from their employer.
- Almost one in five (18%) people quit their jobs or took a significant change in responsibilities at work, whilst going through fertility treatment or challenges.
- Over one in ten (12%) people actively looked for a new job that offered better fertility benefits or that had a fertility policy in place.
- A subset of the sample size, that looked at the gender breakdown of results, found that almostone in five (17%) women and even more men at20% said that they seriously considered quitting their jobs because of the impact of fertility challenges.
- Almost one-third (32%) of people who went through fertility challenges said they were not at all financially prepared to go through this. A subset of the sample size, that looked at the gender breakdown of results, found that 95% of women felt they were not well-prepared financially.
- One-third (33%) of people said that they did not feel sufficiently equipped with knowledge or information to confidently navigate their fertility journey. Only 10% of people said they felt well-equipped with knowledge and knew what to expect.
- Almost eight out of ten (78%) people said that fertility support or a fertility policy was important when they were considering a new job or employer.
- Almost one third (30%) of people felt that they needed to lie to their employer about taking time off to manage the emotional and physical impact of fertility treatment, taking annual leave, sick leave, or unpaid leave instead.
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.
As Laura Johnson, a survey respondent said, “There are lots of appointments during your 9 to 5 day. 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 have 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 of how workplaces and employer policies affect wellbeing and outcomes for individuals. We already knew that 1 in 4 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 fertility leave employees are entitled to, as well as developing a work environment understanding of 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.”