Only 16% of companies have policies in place for employees struggling with their fertility

Almost half (42%) of UK women receive no support from their employer whilst experiencing fertility issues, according to the 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey.

The study reveals widespread worries that fertility struggles are interfering with employees’ mental health – as only 16% of companies have supportive fertility-related policies. This is despite a new report from WHO, which found 1 in 6 people worldwide are affected by infertility*.

May marks ‘Maternal Mental Health Month’, but there are growing calls for the campaign to include those undergoing treatment to become a parent. When only 1 in 4 people received compassionate leave or paid time off for their fertility appointments in the last year, greater awareness of fertility struggles is clearly needed. Workplace issues like these will cause stress, which can affect fertility, compounding the problem.

The 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey was conducted by Fertility Family, experts in supporting those trying to conceive. The survey gathered insight from 248 UK employees who’ve experienced difficulties in the workplace because of their fertility journey – to uncover how companies can better support their employees’ fertility struggles.

Full report findings available here:

The study also highlights the disparity between what men and women experience in the workplace during their fertility journeys:

  • Women are twice as likely to have to take more than a week off work for fertility-related reasons (35% women vs 15% men)

  • 1 in 3 men (37%) receive paid compassionate leave/paid time off for fertility appointments, compared to just 1 in 5 women (22%)

  • 42% of women do not receive any support from their employer whilst experiencing fertility issues, compared to 30% of men

Anonymous respondents share their workplace mental health experiences during their fertility journey:

“When I first shared about my partner and I’s fertility journey with my general manager, they offered sympathy. However, they then checked the company policy and there was very little information relating to IVF. Unfortunately, that led their decision making, so they took no initiative to offer support. I felt isolated in my struggles to balance my responsibilities at work and my fertility journey. I used my annual leave allowance, which led me to hiding my journey, keeping secrets and having very little downtime – which was damaging for my mental health.”

“I had a miscarriage and then struggled to conceive, impacting my mental health. Initially, my manager was supportive. But as the weeks progressed, this diminished and I felt unsupported. I left my job due to all of this.”

“My biggest struggle was when my fertility cycle did not work. I became very depressed and could not be at work due to mental health problems. I did not feel supported and felt that I was in the wrong for having fertility-related sickness. Policies need implementing throughout workplaces to ensure anyone going through fertility issues feels supported, both mentally and financially.”

“The impact on mental health whilst dealing with infertility is profound, yet the workload and accompanying stress in my workplace continued to increase, despite my employer being fully aware of my struggles. I could have been better supported through a deeper understanding of the impact stress, in particular, has

on infertility. Easing the workload and stress levels within the workplace would’ve helped me.”

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. The most popular method of support is flexible working, with 77% of respondents wanting employer consent to leave for fertility-related appointments.

Over half of employees (58%) believe paid compassionate leave should be provided to those struggling with their fertility. Similarly, 41% of employees agree that financial support and fertility counselling (34%) should be provided. 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:

“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 support measures for individuals who face difficulties in this area can be greatly beneficial, 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 understand how to provide compassion and care.”