All too often, the narrative associated with remote and flexible work names working parents as the protagonist. But that narrow-minded thinking unintentionally isolates an entire community in the workplace.
1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. As a result, employer coverage for family planning rose in 2020 (in-vitro fertilization and infertility treatment coverage (non-IVF) both increased 9% compared to 2019). However, the stigma around fertility still exists, leading to the underutilization of these services. 35% of employees indicated they would not tell their boss or manager if they were undergoing fertility treatment or planning to start a family. Specifically, many women report being hesitant to approach their male managers, fearing stigma and concerns over the potential impact on their promotion and career progression.
The Impact on Mental Health
For those undergoing fertility treatments or navigating complex family forming such as adoption and surrogacy, the experience is often isolating and can take a heavy toll on their physical and mental health. Carrot Fertility is the leading global fertility benefits provider for employers, built to support employees through their entire fertility healthcare journey. In their annual Fertility at Work Report, 89% of respondents said that fertility and family forming have negatively impacted their mental health.
In essence, these individuals experience the burden of being a working parent without any of the rewards that come with parenting. The journey can last many months or even years and have a cascading effect on the workplace, impacting recruitment and retention, productivity, and employee health and morale. 59% of those surveyed by Carrot Fertility said fertility and family forming have impacted their work performance, and 22% worry about job security because of time away. (Few human resources departments track and report those embarking on the journey; less than 1% of people have fertility-related time off.)
Unfortunately, if an employee can’t bring their authentic selves to work, their performance will always suffer. Parents to be are paying attention to their managers, the company culture, and human resources departments to see how existing parents in the company are treated. In some cases, they are factoring that information into their decision to stay with the organization or continue their journey to parenthood altogether. If they don’t see existing parents in their office being rewarded for their authenticity and transparency, why would these parents to feel any more comfortable doing so?
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The Importance of Remote and Flexible Work
In March 2020, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommended that fertility clinics suspend all new treatment cycles, minimize in-person interactions and increase the utilization of virtual care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But one month later, fertility care was deemed an essential health service and fertility clinics were given new safety protocols, visitor limitations and virtual care options to resume fertility care. This was great news for intended parents who wished to start or resume a fertility journey. The new norm of remote work added flexibility for women more than ever before. Patients were home to receive could be done in the privacy and comfort of one’s own home. As clinics resumed fertility treatments, cycles picked up despite an approximate 2-to-3-month suspension. Cleveland Clinic nearly reached their 2019 pre-pandemic number of IVF treatment cycles at 976 total cycles by the end of 2020.
Carrot encourages employers to carve out flexible leave policies for employees embarking on fertility and family-forming journey so employees can care for their physical and mental health without having to use their sick and vacation leave. A quarter of employees said they would possibly feel comfortable asking their employer for fertility benefits if they knew others at their company needed them as well.
When asked how their workplace could better support them on their fertility and family-forming journey, 33% of employees said through a better parent-friendly workplace culture. To date, the majority of people use sick days and PTO for fertility care, with just 24% feeling comfortable with leveraging their company’s flexible leave policy. 10% of employees surveyed by Carrot Fertility decided to move forward with fertility treatments because it was more convenient to do so while working at home.
Ama Gordon is the CEO and co-founder of Global Fertility Connections. Global Fertility Connections is a fertility concierge service that provides Intended Parents with personalized fertility education, resources, and reproductive solutions to realize their dreams of having a baby via egg freezing, IVF, and surrogacy.
As a former employee in corporate America, Gordon understands the relationship between remote work and family planning:
“For many years while in a senior role in corporate America, I struggled to balance my infertility journey and career. I remember waking up at 4 am to make it to 7 am fertility appointments only to still arrive late to work. I would work long days to get up and do it all over again. It was physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing and it took a toll on me. I was not my best self.”
It is critical to change the conversation about remote and flexible work. Without question, access to remote and flexible work impacts those embarking on fertility and family-forming journey, from last-minute appointments to time-sensitive deliveries of medication and hormone injections. Virtual access and flexibility on the path to parenthood helps break down barriers that prevent access to infertility care.