Understanding more about the impact of infertility on employees
Over 3.5 million people in the UK go through some kind of fertility challenge*. Nobody should struggle alone.
As Loneliness Awareness Week coincided with our focus on infertility in our Series on Modern Life, this article aims to raise awareness of how lonely it can be for employees struggling with fertility issues while working. The following advice is written by Sarah Robinson, one of our HR Technical Consultants, and gives practical guidance to employees who may need support in their infertility journey.
Sarah is able to speak with insight and empathy because she has had personal experience of working while managing the challenges of her own fertility struggles. Sarah also wrote this insightful guide for employers on how to effectively support colleagues in this situation and remove any taboo surrounding fertility challenges.
I’m quite open about my experiences with infertility and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to get my happy ending. I was also fortunate to be well supported by family, friends and colleagues in my journey, but it was still one of the most isolating and stressful times in my life, so I’m passionate about sharing my experiences to try to help anyone else suffering in silence.
Sarah Robinson, HR Technical Consultant, AdviserPlus.
What I wish I’d known
Everyone’s journey is unique, but feelings of loneliness and isolation are common for those facing fertility issues. It can be one of the most testing, stressful and lonely times in a person’s life and is often a topic that you feel reluctant to discuss in the workplace.
If employers recognise the challenges infertility creates for employees they will be better able to offer the right support and encourage more openness around the topic. I believe that talking more about this often taboo subject is vital for supporting the wellbeing of anyone impacted.
Here are my five tips to help anyone going through infertility challenges themselves:
Seek medical help – If you have been trying to conceive for a year or longer, the NHS recommends seeking medical help. There are instances where it may be advisable to seek help sooner, for example if you are aware you may already have fertility problems or if you are over 36.
Talk to someone – It’s vital that you don’t go through this alone. Some people find talking to friends or family helps, but if you feel uncomfortable speaking to those very close to you, perhaps speak to a professional or find a social media or community group with others who can relate. Some fertility clinics include counselling as part of their service or can put you in touch with support groups. If you are employed, your employer may have an Employee Assistance Programme or private medical plan which includes an adviceline or counselling.
Be kind to yourself and mindful of social media – If you are struggling to conceive it can sometimes feel like babies are everywhere. Consider steps you can take to reduce triggers, such as limiting time on social media. You could also consider what activities make you feel better or reduce stress levels, such as hobbies or holistic treatments like acupuncture and reflexology.
Don’t be afraid to call people out – Without meaning to be insensitive, people often make comments that can be triggering for those going through a personal fertility battle. These might be throw away remarks about how hard parenthood is, or a thoughtless April fools joke around a pregnancy announcement. The only way to prevent these from repeating is to raise awareness of the impact they may have on individuals. If you don’t feel like you want to raise these directly, perhaps speak to a manager or close colleague about discretely addressing it so that it’s less likely to happen in the future.
Engage with your employer – If you are employed then you may benefit from speaking to your employer about your struggles and agree ways in which they can support you. This could include time off for medical appointments, managing workload around treatment or, as mentioned above, your employer may have access to resources such as an EAP or private medical cover.
If you are an employer, or employed and unsure how to navigate fertility issues in the workplace, then please do take a look at our guide – Fertility Issues and Work, which provides practical, open advice on how to support employees.
If your managers would benefit from training on how to support employees, or you’d like support with your policies or processes, please get in touch.