According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, each year more than 50,000 women or couples in the UK have fertility treatment, such as IVF. IVF requires daily administration of intravenous hormones and time off work for multiple scans and blood tests, and unpleasant egg collection and embryo transfer procedures.
For women, in particular, this is a physically and psychologically demanding process, but it is also demanding for male or female partners who share the desperation to build a family. Yet, while employees in the UK have a statutory right to time off work for pre and post-natal care, for example, maternity or paternity leave, there is no such right for fertility treatment.
A survey I conducted with Professor Olga van den Akker and Fertility Network UK, published in October 2016, showed that those having treatment experienced high levels of distress and 42% even experienced suicidal feelings. Despite concerns about privacy, potential damage to career prospects and lack of employer understanding, 72% disclosed to their employer, mainly because they needed to ask for time off work. However, only 23% reported the existence of specific workplace policy relating to fertility treatment, only 42% reported really good support from their employer, and 60% felt their employer would benefit from education to help them understand the needs of someone having treatment.
These findings indicate a need for more widespread workplace policy. Policy might include some time off work, but, where possible, it should also incorporate flexibility, so that, for example, time can be made up later. Policy should be combined with guidance for line managers and supervisors, who may have limited understanding of the physical and psychological demands of the treatment process for women and men. The provision of support has the potential to be mutually beneficial for employees and employers by reducing the amount of time off work needed for treatment and increasing employee loyalty, commitment and retention, while also improving work and treatment experiences for employees.
Dr Nicky Payne is associate professor in psychology at Middlesex University