Trying to conceive is a taboo topic
Women in particular often do not talk openly about their desire to have children at work for fear of negative consequences. They fear that they will be sidelined, passed over for promotion or, in the worst case, lose their job even before they are pregnant.
Employers – or more precisely, managers and HR staff – also do not address the issue of having children. They usually do not know how to deal with this sensitive and personal topic for their employees. Moreover, many are afraid of doing something wrong and overstepping the legal boundaries of what they are allowed to address.
If the fulfilment of their own desire to have a child does not work out over a longer period of time and they have to undergo infertility treatment, women are even more afraid to talk about it. Yet it is precisely at this time that they need support from their employer.
Infertility treatments are stressful for employees
An unfulfilled desire to have children and fertility treatment are stressful. In addition to the enormous emotional strain, there is also the physical and temporal strain of treatment, especially for women. Hormone stimulation, constant visits to the doctor and fertility clinic for scans and examinations, possibly operations as part of the diagnostic process, an operation for egg puncture and then the embryo transfer.
Most women and couples try to manage all this somehow without talking openly about it. They work around appointments, they take sick leave or make up excuses.
Managers and HR staff often do not know how they can help
Sensitive managers and personnel managers usually notice that something is wrong; they may even suspect that the employee is currently undergoing fertility treatment. However, few know how they should and may behave in this situation.
When our founder, Julia Reichert, spoke to a number of HR managers in the run-up to the founding of Onuava, she was told “I’m not even allowed to ask my employees if they even want to have a child. How am I supposed to talk to them about whether or not getting pregnant is going to work and whether they are currently undergoing fertility treatment?”
What can managers and HR do
Here are three tips on how managers and HR staff can support their employees on their path to parenthood:
- Create a culture of openness and set a good example: The more openly and naturally sensitive matters are discussed in a company or department, the easier it will be for those affected to talk about their unfulfilled wish to have a child and the associated concerns. Of course, this only applies if openness on the part of employees is met with understanding and support.
- Show understanding and offer support: If an employee speaks openly about his or her unfulfilled desire to have a child, managers should show understanding and offer support. Statements such as “It will work out” may be well-intentioned, but they are not very helpful for those affected and tend to feel dismissive. Better are statements like, “I’m sorry it’s such a hard road for you. Let me know if there is anything I can do personally or if we as a company can support you in any way.”
- Introduce a “fertility policy”: Many American and British companies already have what is called a “fertility policy”, i.e. guidelines, rules and written commitments on how to support employees who are undergoing fertility treatment or who suffer a miscarriage. This can be, for example, the right to attend appointments at a fertility clinic during working hours or the right to temporarily and flexibly reduce working hours. With a “fertility policy”, companies normalise the topic of (unfulfilled) desire to have children. Many companies in the USA and Great Britain also support their employees with so-called “fertility benefits”.
Why should companies care about this topic at all?
Why is this topic relevant for companies? There are already so many other issues that companies, managers and HR staff have to deal with. Quite simply, an unfulfilled desire to have children is not uncommon. Every seventh person does not succeed in having the child they want, and many of them need medical help. Of course, this also affects one in seven employees on average.
If companies support their employees in difficult situations, this has a positive effect on employee satisfaction and loyalty. In times of a lack of skilled workers and a shortage of employees, employee loyalty is more important than ever before. As a company, taking an interest in the (unfulfilled) desire of its employees to have children and supporting employees during this time is therefore not only “the right thing to do”, but is also in the company’s own interest.