The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has recently published guidance on providing workplace support for employees who are facing fertility challenges. The guidance follows on from CIPD’s previous research which found that fertility issues remain under supported within the workplace. Just 27% of employers surveyed have a policy to support employees undergoing fertility treatment. The guidance aims to clarify the steps employers could take to support their employees in this regard.
What is the purpose of the guidance?
The CIPD highlights that there can be significant impacts on both physical and mental health for individuals who are experiencing challenges with fertility or are undergoing treatment. Their previous research found that employees who receive support from their workplace are less likely to experience further issues with their mental health as a result and, ultimately, are more likely to remain with their employer.
The guidance is therefore intended to assist employers to understand the challenges employees may be facing and how they can provide support. More specifically, the CIPD highlights three key aims of the guidance:
- to raise awareness of the prevalence and impact of fertility challenges, investigations and treatment;
- to highlight the need for effective workplace support and what that might look like; and
- to inspire employers to create an environment where individuals feel able to access support if they want to.
What does the guidance say?
The guidance is framed around five key principles informed by the CIPD’s research.
The first of these is for fertility problems to be more broadly recognised and understood as a workplace issue. Whilst stigma surrounding issues related to reproductive health has led many to believe it is not a topic to be publicly discussed, there is recognition that it is time for this to change. Just as employees who wish to treat this as a private issue should be respected, so should those who wish to access support. One of the main ways this can be realised is through training, particularly for managers and senior individuals.
Secondly, there is a need to create and facilitate an open, inclusive and supportive culture. It is not enough that awareness is raised – that awareness must then be acted upon to ensure that those employees who need support are able to access it. In terms of the work that employers can do to create this culture, being proactive in communicating the support that is available, as opposed to waiting for employees to request support, is an easy way to shift the organisation’s culture. Additionally, setting an expectation that line managers will be empathetic and understanding helps to foster an atmosphere of positivity and inclusion.
Another key element of the guidance is the need for employers to have an organisational framework in place which ensures there is a process to be followed and an easy way for employees to access support. This would include having a specific fertility policy, or provide for fertility-related support as part of a wider policy, which includes detail on the guidance managers are to receive as well as access to sources of expert help, such as an employee assistance programme and signposting to external specialist charities.
The need for time off to be given to employees who are undergoing fertility tests and/or treatment is also highlighted. The guidance sets out how employers should approach requests for time off in these circumstances, as well as suggestions on the policies that could be put in place. It also explains that absence management policies and procedures should be flexible and take into account the potential impacts of experiencing fertility challenges, investigations or treatment, for both partners.
Finally, the overarching aim is for line managers to be equipped to provide empathy and understanding to employees who require support. Managers act as the link between the employer and the employee and so have a key role to play in implementing any policies and ensuring that employees are supported.
What are the steps employers can take?
The CIPD’s guidance offers a very detailed overview of suggested actions that organisations could implement to ensure employees are supported. Some of the key steps employers may choose to take are:
- signing up to the Fertility Workplace Pledge;
- establishing the role of a fertility ambassador who can be a source of knowledge about fertility issues and engage with employees to provide training and support;
- raising awareness through training and other communications to employees;
- training line managers in particular on the support they should provide;
- implementing a policy allowing time off for fertility treatment and tests, including paid time off if this is feasible;
- developing a dedicated, transparent and readily accessible policy or plan for supporting employees experiencing challenges related to fertility;
- making adjustments, such as offering flexible working or temporarily reducing an employee’s workload, to ease the process; and
- setting an expectation for all employees to be empathetic and understanding when considering these issues.
For further detailed information on the practical steps for employers to take, please see the CIPD guidance.
If you would like advice on how to support your employees who are facing difficulties with fertility, our experienced PRM team would be happy to assist.