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The number of employers offering their staff family-building benefits, including assistance with fertility, adoption or fostering, is on the rise.
Fertility advice provider FertilityIQ estimates that 800 large organisations around the world offer such benefits – a 59% increase on 2019’s total.
These can be costly for employers to implement, compared with standard offerings such as gym memberships. The average family-building support package offered by US firms last year was worth $36,000 (£30,000), with some companies offering up to $80,000.
But it has been a worthwhile investment for LinkedIn, which introduced its fertility package for UK staff in 2019. The company reports that this has improved employee wellbeing, cultural cohesion and its power to attract and retain talent.
LinkedIn started offering the benefits in light of a survey of 5,000 workers and HR professionals in the UK. One of the key findings was that workplace policies were failing to meet the needs of employees, particularly those seeking to start a family.
Katherine Gilbert is LinkedIn’s senior director of compensation and benefits in EMEA and Latin America. She explains that the company “wanted to build an environment of support for everyone in our workforce and implement the appropriate policies to help employees on their fertility journeys”.
Gilbert adds: “When new employees join LinkedIn and learn about the fertility benefit during induction, it’s a ‘wow’ moment for them. The feedback we’ve received has been, and continues to be, incredible.”
What support do employees receive?
Through LinkedIn’s fertility and adoption assistance programme, employees in the UK can claim back money they spend during the adoption process or put towards fertility treatments, with a maximum claim of £7,000 per cycle and a lifetime limit of £21,000.
The company also offers them access to a 24/7 confidential counselling service, webinars and a database of family services.
Employers planning to introduce similar benefits need to consider the comprehensiveness of the help they intend to offer would-be parents, according to Gilbert.
“Employees need to be supported by their managers throughout this process, so we give our managers guidance on how to be flexible on working hours to allow for time spent on appointments, for example,” she says.
Gilbert believes that the policy has had a noticeable positive impact on her organisation’s culture. “We understand that family comes first and we want to help employees on their journey. The emotional wellbeing of our team is a top priority for us,” she says. “This benefit is an example of the inclusive and supportive culture at LinkedIn, which is our USP for talent attraction and retention.”
Normalising discussions about fertility in the workplace
Introducing fertility and adoption assistance has also helped to encourage more open discussions about what can often be a sensitive and highly emotive subject, especially for those who desperately want to start a family and have been struggling to do so for some time.
“By offering such a benefit, we are acknowledging the reality for many is that the path to starting a family is not always straightforward,” Gilbert says. “This provides a space for people to open up if they want to. We know we can’t take away every part of the stress of fertility treatment, but we can show that we’re there to support colleagues.”
There are few barriers for staff who want to use the assistance programme. The only requirement is that the applicant must be an “active employee” when they and their partner incur the costs eligible for reimbursement.
Obviously, not everyone at the company will use the benefit, but all staff “can see how impactful it would be. Many employees will have friends or relatives who’ve experienced challenges in starting a family,” Gilbert notes.
Advice for companies introducing a fertility benefit
She reports that LinkedIn didn’t run into any serious problems when implementing the assistance scheme, although the scale of the roll-out across the many territories in which the firm operates warranted more planning than smaller businesses might need to do.
Her advice to companies thinking about introducing similar schemes would be to first ensure that the workplace culture is supportive enough for people to feel they can talk to their managers and HR teams about any fertility struggles they may be having. Then it’s a case of ensuring that everyone knows how to access the relevant services.
Gilbert says: “The decision whether or not to have children is an intensely personal one, but employees need to know that they will not be disadvantaged in their careers by talking openly about their hopes for a family. That will ease the worry that many people – especially women – in this position will experience.”
Employers must also understand that undergoing fertility treatment or the adoption process can be a complex and stressful experience. Gilbert advises that managers should be made aware that in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) cycles may require irregular working patterns, so there may be occasions where they need to help affected employees handle their workloads through such periods.
At such times, it’s important to ensure that the individuals concerned feel valued, supported and secure, whatever the result.
“If the treatment is unsuccessful, the employee may need time to recover and their situation needs to be handled sensitively, as a failure will naturally be a huge disappointment,” she stresses.
Although there has been an increase in the number of companies offering employees financial support for surrogacy, adoption and IVF treatment, Gilbert believes that “more needs to be done to protect those undergoing fertility-related challenges”.
Apple, Centrica, Facebook, Hootsuite, NatWest and Salesforce are among some of the other companies to offer fertility benefits. These range from egg-freezing to support for same-sex couples planning to start families.
As more businesses follow suit and conversations about the subject become normalised in the workplace, fertility support may in time become as common as dental insurance or gym membership on the list of corporate perks.