Tips on approaching your employer for fertility support

When you or your partner are experiencing fertility challenges, juggling the (sometimes unpredictable) appointments, ultrasound scans, medication timing and other treatments alongside work can be a nightmare!  

There is a stigma surrounding discussing fertility matters at work and the impact those conversations may have on your career prospects.  However, many employers are now more open to supporting their employees with these struggles, but they can only do this if and when we decide to tell them, and that’s a decision in itself!  

We've partnered with Fertifa Fertility to give you some top tips on approaching fertility with your employer if you're seeking some support:

Trust and confidentiality

Think about who you want to speak to.  Is it your line manager, or would you prefer to speak with someone in HR?  There’s no right or wrong answer here.  You have to be able to trust the person with personal and sensitive information and know that you can confide in them.

If you do decide to speak to HR, they will most likely encourage you to speak to your line manager or offer to do so on your behalf.  Think about what you want discloses to your line manager.  Of course, if you need flexibility in your working hours or time off, your line manager will need to be informed, but perhaps you can agree to be more conservative with what you share with them.

How much do you want to disclose?

While more women and men are choosing to open up about their fertility struggles in the workplace, many still prefer to keep it private.  That’s an individual choice.  How much you disclose and what you disclose will depend on the relationship you have with your employer and how family-friendly your workplace is.

There is no legal requirement to inform your employer unless you need flexibility or time off.  And of course, you are entitled to take time off work, regardless of whether your employer is supportive or not. If you are requesting flexibility or time off, you can simply state it is for medical reasons, without divulging too much detail.  Your employer may request a letter or medical certificate from a medical practitioner to verify this – you can get this from your clinic or, if you wish to retain discretion, your GP.  

However, if you’ve recently experienced a miscarriage, where it is best to let your employer know the truth so that you can take the time off you need to grieve and recover.  Again, you can obtain a medical certificate from your clinic or GP, if required by your employer.

You can get creative about what you want to tell your employer.  You may tell them the partial truth, without divulging everything e.g. let them know you’re starting some new medication under close supervision and monitoring.  You don’t know what the side effects may be, so you may need some time off in the short-term but will keep them informed.

Have a plan

Before you introduce the topic of time off with your employer, it is really helpful to think about how much flexibility you need and what that flexibility may look like.

Can you make up for lost time if early-morning appointments run over and you’re late for work?  Can you stay later?  Can you complete certain tasks during your commute or from home?  Maybe a colleague can cover for you? Having a workable plan will help you feel calmer and more confident when speaking to your employer.

Understand and act on your needs

Whether you’re undergoing fertility treatment, or recovering from a miscarriage, it is important to understand what you need to get you through this period.  If you have a physical job, it may be best to take some time off - but how much time off do you need?  Do you need counselling?  What emotional support do you have from family, friends, or work colleagues?

If you are continuing to work as a distraction, you may want to reserve space in your work calendar to ensure you don’t have meetings booked in when you may have appointments.  Also, ensure you focus on what is manageable instead of burdening yourself by taking on extra responsibilities or projects.

Is there a friend or colleague at work you can confide in?  If so, let them lend you an empathetic ear.  It’s important to have someone check in on your wellbeing as well as someone to pour your heart out to when needed.

Ask your employer what support there may be available to you.  For example, your employer may have a fertility policy, or miscarriage and baby loss policy in place that you may not know about.  If you have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), check with your employer if they can provide specialist fertility or miscarriage counselling.

Think about communication with your colleagues

As well as managing expectations with your line manager, you may need to do the same with other colleagues who you work closely with, or who may depend on you to achieve certain work deadlines. It is important for you to think about what you want to communicate to your colleagues, how you want it communicated and by whom.  

As previously mentioned, you can choose to be as discreet or as open as you wish in terms of what is divulged to colleagues.  However, one important thing to consider is if you are willing to answer potentially sensitive questions from them, particularly if you’ve not had a positive experience.

Questions from colleagues may unknowingly come across as uninformed or insensitive, so you must be mentally prepared for these should you choose to openly communicate your situation.

Through Heka, you have access to free appointments with Fertifa’s fertility advisors.  Book an appointment today to find out more about how Fertifa can support you through your journey.