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How to become a fertility friendly employer

The majority of organisations leading the way in their commitment to becoming Fertility Friendly to date are medium to large, yet the principle is the same whether you have three or 3,000 employees. Community Interest Company (CIC) Fertility Matters at Work has recently developed its SME tool kit and shares five ways businesses can commit to becoming Fertility Friendly.

An increasing number of organisations across the UK are recognising the importance of implementing Fertility Friendly practices and policies;  this is evident, with an increase in the search term ‘Fertility Friendly’¹ in the past month and an increase in workplaces interested in fertility support services. 

The majority of organisations leading the way in their commitment to becoming Fertility Friendly to date are medium to large, yet the principle is the same whether you have three or 3,000 employees. 

With 1 in 6² people being impacted by infertility issues, whatever size your organisation is, fertility is likely a wellbeing issue you must consider. The first step to committing to being Fertility Friendly as a small business is ‘acknowledgement’. By recognising infertility as an issue within the workplace, you can demonstrate empathy and understanding towards some of the diverse challenges your employees could face.

Acknowledging employees can help alleviate the emotional burden carried by those dealing with infertility, reducing feelings of isolation and anxiety. If employees feel that their personal struggles are being acknowledged and recognised, it will also signal that the workplace is a safe space to share and seek support.

Becky Kearns, co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work, says: ”Ultimately, embracing infertility as a legitimate concern within the workplace not only promotes a more compassionate work atmosphere but can also pave the way for better mental health, engagement and greater retention of employees.”

Be open to learning and understanding
Starting the conversation and encouraging a culture of openness is key for SMEs to become Fertility Friendly. This can be done by inviting people who feel comfortable to share their lived experiences, which helps bring to life fertility challenges and the potential impact on employees, such as the physical, emotional, and psychological toll fertility can have on a person’s work life. If there isn’t anyone internally who can share, Fertility Matters at Work provides free downloadable resources and a podcast, ‘The F Word at Work’, to allow businesses of all sizes to understand this issue better, as well as the impact on individuals and businesses.

Building internal support networks
Building internal support networks within an organisation is extremely important for employees, as it’s a chance for co-workers to communicate about their unique challenges within a safe space. Connecting with other individuals going through fertility issues can be incredibly helpful during this journey, and such networks, no matter how big or small, can foster a sense of belonging and reduce the isolation often felt by those dealing with fertility struggles. 

Internal support networks and an opportunity for peer support provide a refuge for open dialogue, enabling employees to seek advice, share resources, and access emotional support from colleagues who have walked a similar path. 

External signposting
Ensuring that your organisation gives access to external signposting resources for employees grappling with fertility issues is a crucial aspect of a comprehensive and supportive workplace strategy. These external resources, such as charities, support organisations, counselling services, credible podcasts and patient-led organisations, offer expert guidance and assistance beyond the organisation’s immediate capabilities. 

Becky Kearns adds: “By connecting employees to these resources, organisations demonstrate a genuine commitment to addressing the holistic wellbeing of their workforce. External signposting empowers employees to explore a wider range of options and support networks and ensures they receive specialised care tailored to their unique needs. It can also empower managers to signpost to more specialist support.”

Take it one step further with a clear policy
Becky Kearns continues: “If you’re able to show your commitment to the above suggestions, employees will already know that you’re doing the best you can to provide them with support through a challenging time. However, if you can take it one step further, such as working towards becoming a Fertility Friendly accredited employer, this could be an even clearer signal to employees that they will be recognised and supported.

“A policy that is dedicated to fertility (not just slotted within another policy, such as the maternity policy) not only reflects an organisation’s commitment to supporting its employees’ wellbeing but also acknowledges the multifaceted challenges individuals may face on their fertility journey. Businesses create a more inclusive and empathetic environment by offering provisions such as flexible work arrangements, leave options, and in some cases, coverage for fertility treatments. 

“These policies provide employees with the necessary flexibility to manage medical appointments, treatments, and emotional needs without compromising their professional responsibilities. We appreciate that cost may be a concern for SMEs in terms of paid leave for appointments, as well as disruption due to absence within a small workforce, however, by putting in place these supportive measures, SMEs can ensure that they are minimising any disruption, keeping their staff engaged and ultimately retaining talent within the business by providing support through what is often a difficult life-event.

“As a small business ourselves, we know how important every team member is, so much so that you want to do everything you can to look after them and hold on to them. Being able to support your staff through a life event, such as the struggle to bring home a baby, will help them feel seen and supported. 

“We also acknowledge that the idea of doing the work to become an accredited Fertility Friendly employer may feel overwhelming. As a small business owner, it can sometimes feel like you’re juggling a million and one things, and finding the time to work on and complete a wellbeing accreditation might not be at the top of your to-do list. With this in mind, we’ve done the hard work for SMEs, curating credible information and tools within our new Fertility Friendly Essentials Package. 

“It’s really important to us that all types and sizes of businesses feel like they have the option to help their employees by undertaking some essential learning around fertility in the workplace. Sometimes it might feel like only the big corporate businesses can become a Fertility Friendly employer, as they might have more time and resources to spare, but this is absolutely not the case. 

“Our new 12-month membership gives organisations access to extensive resources, which include on-demand workshops on topics such as policy writing, with sample policies too. We also offer a range of content on alternative routes to parenthood, including supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Once these components have been worked through, small businesses might then decide to take our accreditation to take their commitment one step further.”

Fertility and surrogacy law specialist and fertility officer at Burgess Mee, Natalie Sutherland comments on her experience helping the London-based family law firm become the UK’s first Fertility Friendly employer: “At Burgess Mee Family Law, a boutique family law practice in London with under 35 employees, we have found it incredibly useful to have undergone the fertility training with Fertility Matters at Work. 

“As infertility impacts so many people, even in a small company, the training and the assistance of our Fertility Officer has already helped several employees. Likewise, the culture in the firm is now one of openness with no shame or fear attached to fertility issues. Our staff feel comfortable and supported in their fertility journeys whilst at work, and with happy staff, we know this helps with staff retention.

“We have noticed that since being at the forefront of this issue, the many people we have applying to join our firm are all very aware of our pioneering work in this area, which has factored into them wishing to be a part of our team.

 “We would not hesitate to recommend that any company, whatever size, should educate their staff and managers to be able to assist all staff with their fertility journeys whilst navigating their employment.” 

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