2021 has been a breakthrough year for bereavement leave for families going through a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.
In March, New Zealand hit the headlines when it became the first Western country to offer bereavement leave to mothers and their partners experiencing pregnancy loss, whether that was through miscarriage or stillbirth.
This is part of a broader trend where more and more companies are offering broader fertility benefits to their employees.
According to FertilityIQ’s 2021 workplace index, there was an 8% growth in the past year of large employers and companies introducing or enhancing their so-called family building offerings, which include fertility, adoption, and fostering.
Destroying the workplace fertility taboo
Although fertility benefits are on the up, it’s important to keep some perspective. For context, research by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans in 2016, found that only one-quarter of employers with more than 500 staff offer fertility services as part of their health insurance.
This is despite one in eight couples having difficulties conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy, and one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage. Also, Couples aged between 29 and 33 with a healthy, functioning reproducing system have only a 20-25% chance of conceiving in any given month.
Part of the reason for the disconnect is that fertility issues are still a taboo in society, and especially in the workplace.
Thankfully the stigma around discussing fertility problems at work is changing, partly because HR professionals and employers are generally shifting their mindset about empathy, compassion, and mental wellbeing at work. This is something that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An empathetic, compassionate, and inclusive workplace creates a scenario where employees feel empowered to talk about what is worrying them in their personal lives, including challenges around fertility and reproductive health.
Enter HR tech
Tony Chen experienced the lack of workplace support during fertility treatment firsthand. As a result, Chen decided to do something about it, so he founded a startup called Fertifa in 2019.
The sole purpose of Fertifa is “to make fertility and reproductive health more accessible and affordable for all”, and particularly to make “the workplace a better place for anyone experiencing [fertility] challenges”.
To do this, Fertifa, which is headquartered in London, offers tailored fertility benefit programs to employers of all sizes and these, of course, leverage technology.
Fertifa aims to take as much stress as possible out of the fertility journey – and tech helps enormously with that. Tech also improves the experience of the employee and leads to increased engagement from the employer, according to Chen.
How does Fertifa work?
The startup’s online portal connects employees with verified, independent clinics, and specialists both in-person and virtually.
Employes can benefit from video consultations, at-home health assessments, and medicine delivery. This reduces the burden on individuals as they no longer have to spend time, often during working hours, travelling to attend appointments.
The portal also enables employees to access educational information and chat with independent advisors seven days a week. This so-called concierge service is very popular with employees, according to Chen.
This is because it gives them access to “a dedicated advisor to hold their hand throughout the challenges they are facing fertility treatment can be dauting and going directly to fertility clinic can lead to patients feeling like number as the service is so impersonal”.
Instead Fertifa tries to advocate for employees going through a fertility journey.
On the employer side, the startup helps companies put together the right fertility packages for their employees and demographics. These can be either fully funded or part-funded models.
Fertifa also provides educational materials to HR teams to help them initiate conversations, hold workshops, and address the needs of their staff. Chen notes that educational sessions with employers “can have a tangible impact on the mindset of a company towards these issues”
They also receive anonymized feedback and analytics about how their employees are using the service, which enables them to shift their offering to better suit their staff.
A bright future FOR fertility benefits
Currently, Fertifa is only available in the UK. Thanks to a £1 million financing round, Fertifa is scaling up its business in the UK and looking to expand across Europe.
In addition, the startup wants to continue to evolve its product offering and is planning to launch a companion mobile app in the second half of this year to explore how AI can further improve the employee experience.
“We passionately believe that fertility and reproductive health support int eh workplace will be the norm within the next five to ten years,” notes Chen.
Fertifa welcome competition in the fertility tech space, as “the more people out there having this conversation the better”.
As the stigma around mental health breaks as businesses realize that happy, supported employees are more productive, other taboos, around miscarriage and fertility, are top on the list for future digital disruption.
There is also a clear business case for fertility benefits. Chen notes it is important that companies “prioritize their employees as human beings who may have real genuine struggles that they can’t necessarily leave at the front door”.
Fertility concerns may affect an individual’s work and productivity – particularly if they are trying to hide them from their managers or colleagues – and ultimately that is bad for employees, as well as the company’s bottom line.