With one in six UK couples having difficulty conceiving, fertility and reproductive health causes significant stress for a large number of working people. What can employers do?
Research from Public Health England in 2018 found that a third of women in England are suffering from severe reproductive health issues. Common conditions include infertility, endometriosis and the menopause. While mental health and disability support are increasing areas of focus in organisations, reproductive health is not on the agenda for most employers.
Yet many women end up leaving their jobs because they feel unsupported at work and that they cannot disclose the details about their health challenges.
The impact of infertility can be enormous – and is more widespread than we might imagine. Research suggests that one in six couples in the UK have difficulties conceiving, and one in four women experience a miscarriage.
A study by Fertility Network UK found that 90% of people going through a fertility journey feel depressed and 43% feel suicidal.
This has significant implications for the workplace. As companies move to become more focused on employee health and wellbeing, reproductive health must be factored in.
It is important to note too that reproductive issues are not just a challenge for heterosexual couples. Any LGBTQ+ employees who are planning a family will need to explore their options and face similar stresses and mental health challenges
Menopause can also be a major challenge for women in the workplace. According to research by the CIPD, three out of five (59%) working women aged 45 to 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work.
Women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing group in the workforce and the average age for the menopause transition is 51. Yet 65% of women with menopausal symptoms feel less able to concentrate, 58% experience more stress and almost a third say they have taken sick leave due to their symptoms. Only a quarter of these felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.
Reproductive health rights are a growing area of interest. At the moment there are no legal requirements regarding reproductive health, but there are many steps that employers can take to support employees that are suffering from stress and discomfort as a result of reproductive health concerns.
The single most important step is to foster a supportive, open culture where people feel encouraged to be honest about their personal challenges and mental health.
Further measures recommended by the CIPD and other bodies include: