Study highlights how IVF treatment affects workers

New research shows how employees having fertility treatment are having to use annual and sick leave and how a lack of HR policy around IVF increases their distress.

 

The majority of people undergoing IVF are using annual leave and sick leave to cover the time they need off for treatment, according to new research.

The research, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology and conducted by researchers at Middlesex University in collaboration with Fertility Network UK, reported the results of an online survey of 563 employees in the UK.

There are currently no statutory entitlements to absence or flexible working during the long, physically and psychologically demanding process of treatment and the research highlighted that even for those employers who have policies relating to IVF,  these vary greatly.

The research found that the average number of days of absence during a treatment cycle was nine, but that 50% of participants took more days than this, with some taking more than a month. More days of absence were associated with reports of greater levels of distress related to treatment. The most frequently reported methods to manage absence from work were the use of annual leave and sick leave.

Only 23% said their workplace had specific policy relating to treatment and those with no policy experienced greater levels of distress related to treatment. Where policies were available they varied greatly. In some cases policies stated that fertility treatment is elective so no absence from work was allowed. In other cases the policies were vague or left decisions to the discretion of the line manager. Some policies allowed a specific number of (paid or unpaid) days of absence (generally between two and 10 days) but often restricted the number of treatment cycles that would be supported (generally between one and three).

Seventy four per cent of participants disclosed to at least some colleagues. Of those who disclosed to colleagues, 35% received a great deal of support, 47% received a bit of support and 18% received no support. Seventy two per cent disclosed to their employer. Of those who disclosed to their employer, 42% received a great deal of support, 48% received a bit of support and 10% received no support. Those with no support from their employer reported greater levels of distress related to treatment.

The most frequently reported reasons for non-disclosure to their employer were that it is a private matter, fear their employer would not understand and fear of career consequences, stigma and gossip. The most frequently reported reasons for disclosure to their employer were needing to ask for leave, wanting to be honest and having a good relationship with their employer. However, 60% reported their employer would benefit from education/support to help them better understand the needs of employees having treatment.

Meanwhile, a poll of 4,000 UK employees [around 1,000 of whom reported fertility problems], conducted by LinkedIn and Censuswide and released to coincide with Fertility Week, found just 43 per cent said they felt supported by their managers. More than half (53 per cent) of workers said their employers did not have a fertility-related policy in place.

The vast majority (91 per cent) of the 1,000 HR professionals also polled said they would benefit from education and support to better understand employee fertility issues.Two-thirds (66 per cent) of HR professionals also thought fertility support in the workplace should be considered a statutory right.

*Picture credit: Dovidena c/o Wikimedia commons.



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