1 in 5 UK Healthcare Employees Would Call in Sick Before Sharing Fertility Struggles with Employers, New Study Shows 

Only 15% of workplaces in the healthcare sector have a supportive infertility policy

1 in 5 UK Healthcare Employees Would Call in Sick Before Sharing Fertility Struggles with Employers, New Study Shows

A fifth of healthcare employees would call in sick before sharing fertility struggles with employers, according to the 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey. The study also found just 15% of workplaces in the healthcare sector have a supportive workplace policy for employees struggling with their fertility. 

Despite one in six people worldwide being affected by infertility*, over half of UK healthcare sector employees are uncomfortable talking to colleagues about their fertility.

The 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey was conducted by Fertility Family, experts in supporting those trying to conceive – to uncover whether employers recognise this common issue and provide adequate support. It gathered insight from 248 UK employees who’ve experienced difficulties in the workplace due to their fertility journey.

The study also found healthcare employees feel forced to lie to their employers and fear for their careers because of infertility stigma:

  • Less than 2% of healthcare sector workers feel supported by their company during their fertility journey
  • 1 in 5 would rather call in sick than tell their employer about their fertility appointment
  • Over a third stated they didn’t receive any support from their employer whilst experiencing fertility issues

In the survey,  an NHS employee shared their personal experience of how their fertility journey was treated: 

“The NHS policy for people undergoing fertility treatment is three days of special leave. That simply isn’t enough. IVF is physically and mentally exhausting and three days off for all your appointments, scans, blood tests etc. is just nowhere near good enough. 

“There is no support for staff struggling with this issue, which is unacceptable in an organisation where a large chunk of your workforce is women of childbearing age. It seems like a great deal of thought and consideration are given to those with other illnesses and those who are pregnant, but very little is given to those struggling with infertility. I am undertaking my third cycle of IVF and my only option is to take unpaid leave or sick leave.”

What employees want from their companies

Findings from the 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey show that only one in four of those surveyed felt that their company understood and supported them. The form of support most healthcare employees want is flexible working to leave for fertility-related appointments. 

Two in three believe paid compassionate leave should be provided to those struggling with their fertility. Similarly, over a third of those surveyed agree that financial support and fertility counselling should be provided for employees undergoing fertility treatment. 

Kate Palmer, Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, says:

“It can be daunting for an employee to share details of their health, particularly with sensitive conditions like fertility. So it’s important to create a culture of open communication and support. Doing so allows employees to ask for the help they need, which in turn contributes towards increased productivity, satisfaction and retention.

“Introducing mental health first aiders and/or appointing fertility 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 both helps those trying to conceive and raises awareness of their struggles so that colleagues and managers know how to provide compassion and care.”

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