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This is going to be an extremely honest and personal blog but something I am keen to promote and share. I hope this will help employers consider the impact IVF, fertility, miscarriage, post natal depression and other such issues can have on their employees and hopefully better support them in the workplace.

Zeal was launched in May 2021, at which time I had a very comfortable full time Head of HR position with a local business. So what made me set the business up when I did?

  1. A new challenge
  2. To set my own work / life balance (which ironically now has me working more than ever but that is a story for another day…)
  3. Because I had been hoping to start a family since 2018, things were not going as planned and I had started IVF

The 3rd reason may seem like a strange one given most people would welcome the security of an employed position with a good maternity package when trying for a baby. In all honesty, after years of trying for a baby, having no control over getting pregnant and the personal uncertainty as to what our future may look like should I not get pregnant, I felt powerless and so something needed to change. While my employer at the time was great, I also didn’t know how (while wanting to keep the fact I was going through IVF private) I would explain the many appointments I would need to attend as part of the process.

In April 2021, we started our first round of IVF (again starting a business at the same time as starting IVF seems strange timing…) which involved 4-5 weeks of medication and a whole week in Leeds for the IVF treatment itself. Filled with optimism we thought IVF = Baby… how wrong we were – this would be the start of a very challenging, heavily medicated, expensive and emotionally draining process (on top of the disappointments and frustrations of the previous 3 years)!

Little did we know it would be 4 full rounds of IVF and 5 trips to Leeds (each requiring a 1 week stay in Leeds) over a period of around 18 months before we would eventually have a successful IVF transfer in June 2022.

I can honestly say I was entirely ignorant of the physical and mental toll IVF would take on me and my husband. It was more difficult than I could have imagined and I consider myself to be quite a robust person. I have with a great support network around me but the process of IVF was more difficult than I could have imagined. It is difficult for all of the obvious reasons, but with so many people keeping their conception journey and even their pregnancy private until the 3 month mark, this makes IVF (and similar issues) even more difficult as it often involves taking time off work for appointments as well as trips to the UK so when you need so much time off, it becomes is often hard to keep private. On top of that there is the financial pressure of funding the treatment (which isn’t always covered on the NHS).

It can be really hard for employees to manage this alongside their work and even harder for employers to support their employees when often they don’t know anything is going on!

While undergoing my 3rd round of IVF, I was asked by a client to help prepare and implement an IVF policy as well as miscarriage and early infant loss leave policies. This was the first time I had ever seen such policies being implemented, and a really refreshing change and something which I was very well positioned to advise on at the time (little did the client know!).

So what can employers do if they don’t know and how can they help their employees?

  1. Adopt and foster an open workplace environment. Try and create a culture within your business whereby employees feel able to open up and share their personal issues and experiences as this will reduce the stress on them and enable your business to better support them
  2. Have a HR function (no matter what size business you are) – whether allocated to an existing role within the business or by getting outsourced support – have a provision in place which is suitably qualified, experienced and able to deal with complex HR matters. Good HR really does pay for itself in the long run and provides a level of independence, confidentiality and support that employees find invaluable so if you don’t have this then you should consider getting external support
  3. Implement well rounded, supportive and progressive policies such as bereavement, miscarriage and fertility policies – these will not only help your employees practically at extremely difficult times but they will signify you are a pro-active, caring and responsible employer with policies in place to support your employees. While paid leave for IVF treatment (and other such issues) is great (as mentioned, each full round required 5-7 days spent in Leeds which quickly eats into your holiday allowance), if your business genuinely cannot afford the additional paid leave then discretionary unpaid leave or flexible options to make up the time are also appreciated
  4. Appoint a Mental Health First Aider – well trained to deal with and support the mental health issues which can arise from such personal challenges / difficult times
  5. Create an environment where people are able to be vulnerable / honest – hint this comes from the top
  6. Offer flexible working
  7. If possible, offer Employee Assistance Programmes (usually free with PMI)
  8. Have appropriate HR policies and procedures in place

So I am primarily sharing this to raise awareness but hopefully provide useful guidance to employers on how they can support their employees which will in most cases be paid back to the employer in terms of employee commitment.

I may be a very extreme case but infertility and IVF led me to leave a secure job with good maternity policy and pay, set up my own business and even get a dog so think about how it could impact your employees in the workplace.

What’s next – the challenge of navigating running my own business, managing my team while having a baby and trying to get some semblance of maternity leave (even just the statutory 2 weeks!).

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