Most of the time, we think of fertility as a very personal issue. For those who struggle, it can be a heartbreaking, lonely, expensive journey without nearly enough support. So this year for National Fertility Week, we’d like to bring that journey into the light–and talk about how fertility impacts people’s lives and work.
Even if you don’t realize it, there’s a good chance fertility issues are affecting your employees’ productivity and wellbeing right now, not to mention your healthcare costs and ability to attract and retain talent. But you can make a difference by offering fertility support with your benefits and helping break down the stigma around fertility at work.
Fertility issues are more widespread than you think—here’s why you’re not hearing about them
Infertility, the inability to conceive after trying for one year, impacts one in every six people of reproductive age worldwide —that’s about 1.34 billion people each year.1 In fact, fertility issues are as common as breast cancer, and even more common than type 2 diabetes.2 But, even though fertility issues touch so many people, you probably don’t hear a lot about them from your colleagues and employees. And there are lots of reasons why.
For one thing, there’s a taboo around reproductive health—especially women’s reproductive health—which makes it incredibly hard to talk about. On top of that, many people who struggle to conceive internalize feelings of guilt or shame. They may be afraid they’ll be judged, and often they don’t feel safe or comfortable talking about the problem. Many also worry that sharing their plans for building a family could put them at a disadvantage at work.3
Even if they aren’t talking about it, the struggle to conceive can have a deep impact on every part of a person’s life, from personal relationships to focus at work. The journey is exhausting, emotionally and financially, with painful disappointments made even harder by the challenges of finding good care. To put the impact of fertility issues into perspective, consider this: depression levels among people struggling with fertility are comparable to those of patients diagnosed with cancer.4
As workplace demographics change, women’s health is becoming a bigger issue at the office
Two major demographic shifts are making infertility a more important workplace issue than ever before. First, women make up more and more of the workforce. Second, as they focus on their careers, people are having children later, which increases the chances of fertility issues.5
Here’s a look at the numbers: By 2025 millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. And the millennial workforce has a higher percentage of working women than any generation before—72% of millennial women are employed, compared to just 40% of the silent generation and 66% of baby boomers at the same age.6 Along with this increase in workforce participation, the average age for first-time motherhood has gone up 24% in the past ten years7—from 21 to 26. Men are having children later too, with the average up from 27 to 31 over the last decade.8
Though the numbers aren’t clear yet, COVID-19 may have an impact as well. US births declined during the pandemic9 and, according to a recent study from NYU, nearly half of the women in New York who’d been trying to become pregnant before COVID-19 stopped trying within the first few months of quarantine.10 As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, people may decide the time is finally right to build their families. But, now that they are two years older, they are more likely to face fertility challenges.
Why fertility benefits, coupled with maternity and family health support, are good business
Since more of your employees may be dealing with fertility issues, it’s worth considering how fertility support can save costs and help attract and retain employees.
When it comes to cost, the risk of adverse, and expensive, birth events (such as c-sections, preterm birth, and other complications) increases with maternal age.11 Since personalized, proven fertility support can help people conceive sooner, it can lower those risks.
Personalized fertility support can also help reduce the need for expensive fertility procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). And even if you don’t cover IVF, the process can still raise healthcare costs because IVF increases the likelihood of multiple births—while a single birth costs an average of $21,000, births of multiples can cost up to $105,000 or more.12
And, while fertility support can save costs, it’s also important to realize that there can be some additional costs and risks. So how can you increase your benefit offerings and remain competitive without breaking the bank? Pair your fertility support with maternity and family health solutions that are proven to address and reduce avoidable adverse health events. When you combine the two, people may be able to conceive naturally sooner–or become more educated about reproductive technologies if they need them–and they’ll be more likely to get the care they need and understand their unique risks, both of which can lower adverse health outcomes. For example, when people know that advanced maternal age raises the risk of preeclampsia or preterm birth, they’re more likely to get the tests and treatments they need, watch for warning signs, and catch problems early, when they are easier (and less expensive) to treat.
An example of this in action, recently, a client discovered how important it is to pair fertility support with maternal and family health solutions. At first, the company decided to simply add fertility support to their benefits. But after one year–and millions of dollars in additional healthcare costs for multiple births and other health issues–they realized that they needed digital maternity and family support, too. Since implementing both (with Ovia Health as their digital and maternity support) costs have normalized, saving the company millions of dollars.
While it may seem like a lot to take on at once, adding fertility and maternity support can save you the cost of replacing employees and help you attract the best talent. That’s because, in our post-pandemic world, family-friendly benefits are more important than ever. According to a recent Ovia survey, 77% of working parents consider family-friendliness their number-one priority, and 90% would consider leaving for another job if it offered better family benefits.13
How to make a culture shift, and offer the benefits that matter most
Fertility struggles are difficult for so many reasons, from the emotional strain to the cost and the time for treatments, just to name a few. But we can talk about fertility until it’s not so stigmatized anymore, and offer benefits that help ease the burden.
The first step is culture change–we can create work cultures that are open, supportive, and understanding about the ways fertility issues impact peoples’ personal and work lives. We can talk often about benefits, and make it clear that women’s health—including fertility and maternity care—is a priority. We can train managers about the unique needs of employees who are struggling with fertility, and help them create environments that are supportive of the process.
We can also invest in fertility benefits that help families conceive earlier and with fewer complications. Programs that offer personalized fertility support are critical. So are programs like Ovia, which can partner with these fertility companies to provide maternal health care management, education, and one-on-one coaching to help families all the way from conception, through birth, and returning to work as new parents.
This year, for National Infertility Week, let’s make it okay to talk about fertility issues, and let’s offer meaningful support to those who are struggling.
1: World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility
2: Sohrab, Serena and Nada Basir. Navigating Work While Undergoing Fertility Treatments. Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/11/navigating-work-while-undergoing-fertility-treatments.
3: Sohrab, Serena and Nada Basir. Employers, It’s Time to Talk About Infertility. Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/11/employers-its-time-to-talk-about-infertility.
4: Rooney, Kristin L., et. al. The Relationship Between Stress and Infertility. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2018 Mar; 20(1): 41–47: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016043/
5: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/having-a-baby-after-age-35-how-aging-affects-fertility-and-pregnancy
9: United States Census Bureau: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/09/united-states-births-declined-during-the-pandemic.html
11: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/having-a-baby-after-age-35-how-aging-affects-fertility-and-pregnancy
13: Ovia Health: https://user.oviahealth.com/future-of-family-friendly/index.html