In the U.S., fertility benefits have already been established for six years and are now offered by one-third of Fortune 500 companies. Around 68% of employees in the US even make their decision to take a new job dependent on whether the company offers family planning support. Nevertheless, when talking to German companies, we have repeatedly encountered the question of whether employees would even actually have a positive attitude toward a fertility & family forming program. HR managers fear criticism from employees and customers.
»Our employees don’t need that. Anyone who wants to have children already have them.« »It is much too private for us to ask about or get involved with family planning issues.« »We don’t want people to think that we want to take advantage of our employees and make them put their careers before their families.«
First of all, »Fertility & Family Forming Benefits« covers all legal alternative ways to start a family – whether adoption, social freezing, or in vitro fertilization. The idea is not that employees should postpone their plans to have children, but rather that they receive support for their individual situation, are aware of their options, and can make the right and informed decision for themselves – even if that means not having children at all. Of course, it would be nice if employers could simply ask the staff how they feel about fertility benefits, e.g. at an all-hands meeting or during a happy hour get-together. But this approach would only work
- if infertility was less stigmatized,
- if employees were not afraid of being discriminated against when the employer finds out about their family planning, and
- if employers did not have to tiptoe around the question of what can be said and asked.
Especially in larger companies, it can be difficult to engage in this topic. So here are a few recommendations on how to accomplish that.
Communication, communication, communication
Especially with a taboo topic like (in)fertility, the first and probably most important step is to talk about it – and keep on talking about it. Make it a topic in an all-hands meeting. Bring in outside experts for a panel discussion. Talk about it in your internal newsletter. Offer an open door for questions and suggestions. And as an employer, admit that you don’t know every step of the way, but that you want to support your employees and be there for them.
It is about your employees and their needs. Therefore, a task force comprised of HR managers and voluntary representatives from different teams is a good way to work together on this sensitive topic. This kind of task force will both reflect the honest opinions of the individual teams as well as facilitate an understanding of the scope of the project and the employer’s perspective.
If the decision to introduce a Fertility & Family Forming Program is made jointly, then it will also be supported jointly.
Do you want to know how important family planning support and benefits are to your employees? Then ask them! How convenient that modern communication methods make it possible to conduct an anonymous and reliable survey in a short period of time. Since about 15% of employees have a direct connection to the issue, and many others may have encountered it through family members or friends, you can expect good response rates. Whether the survey is conducted as a stand-alone questionnaire or is embedded in a larger survey about company values, benefits, diversity, inclusion, etc. varies from company to company. But an anonymous survey stands a very good chance of getting honest and perhaps unexpected responses. We’re happy to share our best practices.
What is the real question?
Even before employers try to figure out how the staff feels about fertility benefits, they should ask themselves how a fertility program underscores the company’s values.
Employers who understand that Fertility & Family Forming Benefits are there to balance out an existing injustice and provide more equality will realize that the question of “Do our employees want Fertility Benefits?” ultimately equates to the question “Do our employees want to be treated equally?” – and the answer to that should be clear. Therefore, a better question is “What value do we place on family planning in our company?”. Because Fertility & Family Forming Benefits are not comparable to a fitness club membership or a monthly bus pass, but rather significantly define what kind of employer you want to be.