Fertility issues still taboo in Irish offices

Nearly two-thirds (65pc) of Irish professionals would not discuss fertility issues with their manager, new research into Irish offices by LinkedIn reveals.

And only half of women who suffered a miscarriage told their employer.

The research, which surveyed Irish professionals and also workers with fertility issues, highlighted a range of issues relating to why people do not feel comfortable discussing challenges trying to have a child with their employer, the lack of HR policies to support people pursuing IVF or adoption, and the potential resentment that can fester due to the lack of HR structures and understanding for co-workers struggling to conceive.

“It took my third miscarriage to push me to open up to a manager about what I was going through”

The top five policies that professionals that have experienced fertility issues want most from employers are:

  1. Flexible working options for those undergoing fertility treatment (52pc)
  2. Personal leave to recuperate or aid their partner during egg retrieval or insemination process (33pc)
  3. Paid time off for those undergoing fertility treatment (31pc)
  4. Financial assistance for fertility treatment (31pc)
  5. Flexible working options for those going through an adoption process (29pc)

Train managers to better handle fertility issues

But crucially, the most pressing  issue is how employees can discuss fertility issues with managers who have the empathy but also the training to discuss and deal with the situation.

Most Irish professionals (59pc) are hesitant to discuss fertility issues with their employer as they want to keep their personal and professional lives separate. One of the main factors behind this is due to the lack of training for managers on how to handle with conversations about topics like miscarriage or IVF, with 7 in 10 workers saying that they would be more likely to have a conversation with their employer if they knew that their manager had training on how to deal with it.

Just under half (47pc) of Irish workers who have experienced fertility issues did not want to discuss it with their manager because it felt too uncomfortable, with over a fifth (22pc) not wanting to do so in particular if their manager was of the opposite sex. A major factor for almost a third (31pc) of these professionals is that they did not want to have to tell colleagues if their attempts to conceive were unsuccessful. Over a fifth (22pc) of workers finding it difficult to conceive also worried that telling their manager about their plans for a baby would hinder their career prospects.

The lack of HR structures and understanding of coworkers has led to a variety of issues for professionals that experienced challenges when trying for a baby. Just over half (52pc) of these workers reported experiencing mental health issues, with almost two fifths (39pc) saying that their financial situation was negatively impacted and just over half (51pc) reporting that their work performance was affected. Over half of professionals experiencing fertility issues said that they needed to take time off work to attend medical appointments or to recover from them, with nearly a quarter (24pc) also having to undergo counselling.

Worryingly over half (55pc) of Irish professionals said that their employer did not have HR policies in place to help staff having difficulties trying for a baby with fertility treatment or adoption. For example, women pursuing IVF are required to take injections at set times during the day, which make staying back late in the office or travelling for work an issue. Despite this there is a lack of formal flexible working options for employees opting for fertility treatment in many Irish organisations.

There are still some underlying issues around attitudes towards pregnancy, fertility issues and whether colleagues have children or not in the workplace. Almost three quarters (73pc) of professionals think that workers who do not have children enjoy better career success.

One in seven (14pc) professionals expect colleagues with fertility issues to work at the same pace despite their need for support. On a positive note in this respect, just over a third (36pc) would cover for colleagues with fertility issues if they had to miss work.

LinkedIn is calling for employers to break the taboo in their organisation and discuss fertility issues at work to help normalise this commonplace issue and is encouraging workers to join the conversation on LinkedIn to help lift the stigma by using #FertilityAtWork

Commenting on the research, Lisa Finnegan, Senior HR Director for EMEA & LATAM at LinkedIn, said: “It took my third miscarriage to push me to open up to a manager about what I was going through. Part of the reason why I’ve chosen to speak out about my journey on LinkedIn is that I believe our personal struggles don’t happen in isolation from our working lives. Following the positive response I received on my post, this has prompted many others to share their story on the platform.

“We need to raise awareness of the diverse fertility journeys that people undergo so they feel comfortable starting the conversation at the beginning of that journey. This research  shows that there are a multitude of ways to support employees struggling with fertility and I hope our findings will encourage more employers to begin their own discussions on the topic.”

Image: Drew Hays on Unsplash  

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 29 October, 2019