That’s the kind of feedback we get from HR departments every now and then. Now, they say, is not the time to support their employees in their family planning efforts, because NOW
- they’d rather help them settle into their home offices
- they’d rather mentally support them in order to minimize the negative consequences of social distancing
- they’d rather want to make sure that employees who already have children are given the best possible support.
But there’s a hitch in this reasoning: The existential desire to have children cannot simply be switched off or put on hold. It is difficult to postpone it until »later,« especially if this »later« is not a specific point in time. And if there is no guarantee that it will work out »later«, maybe because it hasn’t worked out for some time to get pregnant.
Infertility affects 15% of the population, making it a more widespread disease than diabetes or cancer. And while there is a persistent misconception that infertility is primarily a problem for women, we know that men and women are affected about equally. Yet women and same-sex couples in particular bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to family planning – emotionally, physically, and financially.
Women and LGBT+ people typically spend thousands of dollars on reproductive medical treatments, social freezing, and adoption. And that does not yet include the physical and emotional »costs« of these processes. At the same time, health insurance benefits directly exclude several groups of people in Germany and other European countries – unmarried and same-sex couples as well as singles and women over 40 cannot hope for any support.
Infertility is not something you can protect yourself against. But it is something modern reproductive medicine can actually help with. Those who get proper advice and the best suitable treatment for their needs right away – without having to go through »trying out« low-cost treatments first – save an enormous amount of time and nerves. And employees who know that they are in the right hands can also concentrate much better on other commitments, e.g. at work.
It is a fact: employees who are affected by infertility and are left alone with it often lose a lot of time unnecessarily:
- Because they avoid the diagnosis of »infertility« for as long as possible.
- Because many gynecologists themselves are not experts in the field of »reproductive medicine« and simply refer patients to fertility clinics.
- Because they first try less expensive methods, even if success is much less likely.
Time works against these employees because their window to start a family is getting smaller with each passing day, which is an enormous mental burden.
Generally, the mental health of their employees played a big role for many companies in 2020, especially with respect to the consequences of home office and social distancing. In July & August 2020, Oracle commissioned a study on the mental health of employees in 7 European countries. Among the respondents were staff members, HR experts, supervisors as well as board members. According to this study, a good 68% of German employees feel impaired in their mental well-being. Even though 51% of employees said their employer had adjusted benefits to offer mental health services, 75% felt this had not yet happened to a sufficient extent.1
Another major problem is that infertility and the use of reproductive medical procedures still carry a strong stigma, which is why those affected often do not talk openly about it. According to the German medical journal »Ärzteblatt«, »Infertility and reproductive medical treatments are so stressful in the long run that infertile women become more anxious and depressed.«2
During the pandemic, this burden increases due to a lack of available treatment and counseling options, as well as a lack of social contacts. Couples, no matter the constellation, who are trying in vain to have a child and feel left alone are under tremendous emotional and mental stress.
As an employer, you can support your workforce and minimize the mental stress of family planning by taking simple steps. One of them is introducing a service that provides tailored advice to your employees, recommends suitable clinics, arranges appointments promptly and structures the entire cost side. All this quickly, discreetly and, above all, anonymously. Your financial support ensures that the best treatment for the patient is chosen straight away, without having to take a detour via supposedly cheaper, but also significantly less promising, treatments.
It is time to take the stigma off the topic of »(in)fertility« and to become an HR department that actively and positively frames the »new normal« around fertility and family forming: »Normalizing the conversation around fertility can be an important step in moving out of the silence and creating an environment where women feel supported to share their treatment and career plans with their employer.«
At a time when it is more difficult than ever to »just have a chat« with colleagues and friends or even talk in confidence about the issues that really matter in life, companies have the responsibility and the opportunity to be there for their employees and to support them.
After all, an employer who ensures that employees are able to meet their essential needs, even in challenging times like these, will be remembered positively in the mid- and long term. This employer will build a diverse and inclusive corporate culture that is instrumental to the company’s success. And it will be an attractive employer to future talent.