More than a quarter of a million babies have now been born in the UK as a result of fertility treatment. And, with an increase in success-rates of IVF as well as more people starting a family later in life, it is likely that more and more employees will be undergoing treatment whilst working.
But how do you combine this with working life? What support is available? Unlike employment law for maternity, paternity and adoption, there is no legislation that supports employees to take time off (and therefore paid leave) for IVF.
A survey in 2016 revealed the impact of going through IVF on emotional health, stating that shockingly, 42% of respondents reported suicidal thoughts whilst undergoing IVF. How supportive are our UK organisations? What help and reassurance are we giving?
We talked to Becky, who outlines the personal challenges she went through, which further suggests we are not doing enough to support:
‘I went through 2 rounds of IVF, whilst working in a senior position in a financial company in the City. I’m not going to lie; working whilst having the treatment did prove pretty stressful. However, I did attend one of the most ‘intensive’ clinics in London.
“They take over your life”, was a phrase I heard a number of times in the clinic’s waiting rooms. Daily blood tests during week one of ‘stimulation’ turned into twice daily in week two. Then scans on top. I’d try get to the clinic for 7-7.30am, but frequent long waits (sometimes 30 minutes but sometimes well over an hour) and then travelling across London to the office meant I was frequently late into work.
I don’t want to sound overly negative, but I do think you need to be realistic if you’re considering having IVF whilst working. Make sure you speak to your clinic to figure out exactly how frequently you need to be there. Also, how many days off ‘sick’ (or holiday) you’ll need (egg collection, embryo transfer then days off to rest post transfer).
I hadn’t realised just how intense the whole thing was going to be. Plan ahead. Have a list of ready-made excuses for your boss, for when you’re late or need to pop out mid-afternoon for a scan. Also, be aware that the further through the treatment you get, the more the drugs will be impacting you. I felt utterly exhausted and sick. On the flip side, working helped take my mind off the treatment!
You could of course tell work you plan on undergoing IVF. I checked our HR documents on the intranet and found I wouldn’t be given time off for any treatment. Plus, as an ambitious and career-driven employee, I didn’t exactly want to draw their attention to the fact I was trying for a baby.
So, my advice is plan ahead and be realistic. Both of these would help reduce stress and hence improve your chance of success.’
- Keep channels of communication open. Ensure the woman undergoing IVF feels supported and able to express any concerns.
- Have a policy that covers IVF. Such policies are rare but should be part of your staff handbook. It should cover notification, time off pre-conception, requests to reduce hours/duties, counselling, sickness absence for reasons relating to IVF and how this sits within the overall sickness policy, unsuccessful attempts to conceive and/or miscarriage, and rights of fathers during IVF.
- Listen to the remaining workforce. Reassure and keep them updated, with the permission of the employee undergoing IVF.
- Offer to pay for counselling or allow time off for counselling should the IVF treatment be unsuccessful.
- Monitor the impact on the business. It is easy to panic when one or more workers tell you that they are undergoing IVF. However, the employee may have negative feelings about taking time off and will often be keen to maintain and resume her workload as soon as possible.
We’d like to hear from you – as an individual if you’ve been through IVF at work – or as an organisation if you have put in place any support for those experiencing IVF. Do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org