Infertility affects a significant portion of the population with research showing that approximately one in six couples are struggling to conceive.
Fertility issues are also on the rise, making it a topic impacting more of the population and therefore, the workforce.
While infertility affects both men and women equally, male fertility is often missing from conversations and remains taboo.
Yet, the percentage of men requiring fertility treatment from specialists has almost doubled in just over a decade.
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One in five (19%) employees affected by fertility challenges have considered leaving their job due to their experience at work.
An increasing number of UK businesses are following in the footsteps of those in the US, which have benefitted from the competitive advantage workplace fertility policies can offer the employee value proposition.
But when implementing these policies, businesses must make a conscious effort to ensure they are inclusive of all employees this could impact.
A paradigm shift in how fertility is talked about is needed, including more conversations about male fertility.
It’s a multi-faceted issue, but businesses could play a role in moving that conversation forward through inclusive fertility policies that acknowledge the specific challenges men face in seeking treatment.
Remove barriers to care by embracing digital tools
According to a study conducted by myGP, the majority of men would rather remote consultations over physical appointments to discuss health concerns, with embarrassment being the primary barrier to seeking in-person care.
By leveraging or directing employees to digital health tools, such as webinars or online support groups, employers can help to overcome gender-specific care gaps by promoting digital options that allow men to access information discreetly.
Employers should also ensure they provide information and resources specific to male fertility, including access or signposting to external medical professionals, support groups or resources.
Through providing remote and anonymous fertility support, businesses could help men seek advice to start them on their fertility journey.
Make employee assistance programs inclusive
Infertility can be a sensitive and emotional topic that is often stigmatised and – particularly in the case of male fertility challenges – not openly discussed.
A survey by The Lister Fertility Clinic revealed that more than two thirds of men wouldn’t share their fertility struggles with their partner and almost half feel there is a societal stigma about it.
Businesses could implement or expand employee assistance programs (EAPs) to support those experiencing fertility challenges.
Infertility can be a stressful and emotionally draining experience, and EAPs can provide male employees with the specific support and guidance they may need to help cope with the struggles of infertility.
Dismantle stigma by sharing experiences
Employers have a unique opportunity to dismantle the stigma surrounding infertility.
This can be achieved by implementing a formal and inclusive policy on fertility treatment in the workplace and promoting open communication from the top down.
It is crucial for managers to have the training and education to have the tools needed to play an active role in championing the normalisation of fertility-related topics within the workplace.
One effective way to achieve this is encouraging more open conversations about male fertility.
Senior leaders who have been through or are experiencing fertility challenges can play a powerful role by talking about their own journey.
Of course, this has to be handled sensitively – no one should feel pressured to talk about something they don’t want to – but should there be leaders who do feel comfortable talking about their personal experience, this can be incredibly empowering.
This can not only support employees who may be experiencing similar challenges but also create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture for everyone.
Implementing formal workplace fertility policies is a business decision that not only fosters a supportive and open culture, but that can help retain and attract talent.
However, to break down the stigma and taboos surrounding fertility, HR teams must strive to develop policies that are inclusive of all that may be impacted and all family make-ups.
To build a framework that addresses the needs of the whole workforce, businesses need to be proactive to build an understanding of how psychological, societal and cultural differences can affect employees on their fertility journeys to.
Tet L Yap is a consultant in urology and andrology, specialising in male fertility, at HCA Healthcare UK