Navigating Infertility Treatment and the Workplace

by Shane Nugent, ReproMed

We need to talk about infertility. It is estimated by the HSE that one in six heterosexual couples in Ireland may experience infertility. This means that many couples will investigate the option of fertility treatment in order to conceive. IVF treatment, one of the most common infertility treatments, can require multiple visits to a clinic over a prolonged period of time. It is not only a complicated logistical issue for many couples, but a highly emotional one too, causing a huge amount of stress for all of those involved.

Unfortunately, couples going through this difficult period often face many unnecessary stumbling blocks on the way to treatment. As HR professionals, we have a duty to ensure a person’s working life is not one of them.

When it comes to the workplace, infertility and fertility treatment often remains a taboo issue. In a recent Japanese study, almost 20% of women had to resign from their jobs for infertility treatment, due to infertility related workplace harassment and difficulty in working during the treatments. In the UK, one in five patients are forced to cut their hours or leave their work altogether during IVF treatment.

There are many stories, particularly from women, of people not feeling able to discuss the issue with their boss for a variety of factors – fear of being judged for their actions, a fear of falling behind career wise, some even expressing fears of losing their job, worried that their boss may not take kindly to the idea of someone missing work for treatment and the associated maternity leave should it be a success.

In March, Senator Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party put forward a bill to grant employees an entitlement of ten days annual leave to receive treatments like IVF. The government has lent backing in principle to the idea. In the meantime, there are practical tools that we as HR professionals can use to ensure a culture and environment where employees can discuss their issues and concerns freely with their employers and HR staff.

The first, and most important, requires a change of mindset from all of us. Amongst many, the decision to undergo fertility treatment is seen as a lifestyle choice, similar to cosmetic surgery. This idea needs to be debunked. The World Health Organisation has been clear in its messaging and defines infertility as a ‘disease.’ It is a medical issue and should be treated accordingly when discussing the situation with those involved.

When dealing with the individuals themselves, it is important to strike the balance between openness and privacy. Employees need to feel that they can speak to their HR representatives candidly but confidentially. To strike this balance, the personality of a workplace and the individuals is vital. When we look to recruit for management positions, we ensure that those we interview have the characteristics to deal with sensitive situations. This means being able to read the room, to know how much communication is needed and the ability to be emotionally aware. When discussing a topic as sensitive as fertility treatment, these traits are vital to ensure employees feel comfortable in the workplace.

It is our belief that workplace culture trickles downwards. Making the right hiring decisions at the top and putting the correct policies in place fosters a positive culture across the company. When it comes to fertility treatment, helping employees navigate this difficult period in their lives will make your workplace a stronger, more positive, more productive environment to be in for everyone.


About the author

Shane Nugent has over 12 years’ experience in the HR Field, specializing in Employment Law, Policy and Procedure Development, Cultural Improvement, HR Infrastructure and providing HR strategic support as well as the ability to build relationships at all levels and operate as an effective partner to the business, linking the HR Plan and strategy to the business agenda.

Prior to taking on his current role in ReproMed, Shane worked in Healthcare for 5 years in ROI and 7 years in the UK working in the public, private and voluntary sector as well as consultancy work.