Come Recommended founder and president Heather Huhman knows firsthand the challenges of dealing with infertility while working in a busy office. Over the span of five years, Huhman went through IVF seven times, suffered four miscarriages and gave birth to stillborn twins before having her daughter Aurora in January 2016.

“While battling infertility for five years, it defined me. I let it run my life. I stopped taking time off from work outside of appointments and treatments. I stopped hobbies I enjoyed, like reading,” she explains. “I did, however, dive deeper into work to keep my mind off my struggles. My situation is a bit unique in that I run my own business, so I choose the people around me. But had I been working for someone else and not felt supported at work, I’d likely be among the statistic of people who leave their jobs for a better environment.”

Huhman is not alone. One in eight U.S. couples experience infertility — and deal with exorbitant amounts of stress in their journey. Research has shown the stress levels of women diagnosed with infertility are equivalent to those of people with cancer, AIDS or heart disease. Yet many struggle silently, especially at work.

[Image: Bloomberg]

[Image: Bloomberg]

Because of these dire statistics, more and more employees are looking for benefits that address fertility. In fact, employees who are struggling to have a baby value workplace support during their infertility journey more than they value work-life balance, higher compensation and other perks like free lunches, according to a new study conducted by Come Recommended.

“Anecdotally, we’ve heard countless times how miserable people were at work because they felt unsupported during their infertility journey,” Huhman says. “So we set out to discover the true state of infertility in the workplace and exactly how companies could create an enviable employee experience for these individuals.”

Of the 1,000 people surveyed who have experienced fertility issues, more than half of the respondents (53%) were open about their infertility at work and the other 47% were not. Given the gamut of emotions experienced by infertile couples — ranging from sadness and anger to shame and envy — it is not surprising that so many people are reluctant to talk about their experience to co-workers and supervisors. But as a result, it is this group who feels less supported overall on the job.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reports that a quarter of employers with more than 500 employees offer fertility services as part of their healthcare benefits. Nineteen percent cover in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, 12% cover fertility medications and 9% cover non-IVF fertility treatments. Smaller numbers cover visits with counselors (genetics, surrogacy etc.) at 6%, or egg harvesting/freezing services at 4%. Only 4% of employers with fewer than 50 employees offer fertility services.

“Fertility services are a highly valued benefit for employees, often with a low cost impact for employers,” explains Julie Stich, director of research at the International Foundation. “Employees who have access to fertility benefits can actually have overall lower healthcare costs because they are making decisions with their doctors based on medical best practice, not on personal financial concerns.”

Currently only 15 states have laws requiring insurance coverage for fertility treatments. While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities — and infertility meets the definition — the Spiggle Law Firm concludes in a company publication that employers who refuse to provide infertility insurance coverage to their employees have not violated the ADA as long as the failure to provide that coverage is non-discriminatory. In other words, all of their employees have the same coverage.

But there is more that employers can do to support their workforce besides offering health insurance that covers infertility treatments, Huhman says. “Educational resources about infertility, flex-time and employee assistance plans are valuable,” she notes. “But the infertility community also wants paid medical leave, free or discounted services — such as acupuncture or yoga — and the option to telecommute from home.”

Fertility services as a benefit

One tech company that marries robust fertility benefits with workplace flexibility to produce a superior employee experience is Zynga, the creator of global social games including Words With Friends, Zynga Poker and FarmVille.

“In our global pregnancy and parental leave package, we offer our U.S.-based employees a $20,000 lifetime benefit for infertility services such as intrauterine insemination, IVF and egg-freezing to assist them in their family planning journey,” says Renee Jackson, Zynga’s vice president of HR. “In addition to 72 hours of annual paid sick leave for full-time employees and leave-of-absence options, we have a flexible vacation policy to allow our team members to rest and take the time they need.”

Erin Smith-Cheng, director of Zynga Communications is in ongoing treatment for infertility and has been able to take advantage of Zynga’s generous benefits. After 14 years together, in 2015 she and her husband decided to start a family.

“When it was determined that we’d need help in our journey to have a family, we had to take on an intense schedule of testing, doctor’s appointments and treatments,” she says. “As anyone who has ever gone through fertility can attest to, having to see numerous specialists becomes all-consuming. It really almost becomes a second job.”

While the financial assistance from Zynga was greatly appreciated, Smith-Cheng says the overwhelming support of her team and other Zynga employees across the country have been paramount. “There was no problem when I needed to work from home, join a meeting via video conferencing or take some time off, particularly during the more aggressive portions of my treatment,” she explains.

Building loyalty

Rackspace, a company that manages dedicated and cloud computing services, also provides infertile employees with time and money to help manage their condition. Technical account manager Jackie Campbell has been the beneficiary of both in the four and a half years she has been with the organization.

At age 28, she was told that she and her husband had only a 3% chance of conceiving. She had surgery for endometriosis, four IUIs and two rounds of IVF before she became pregnant with her son, who is now 5 months old. Rackspace covered the cost of medication and the IUI procedures, plus $10,000 toward IVF treatments.

“Rackspace was absolutely incredible,” she says. “My schedule was very flexible, and when I had two miscarriages, they never pushed me to come back to work before I was ready. I have a lot of friends who had to keep their infertility experience private because they are afraid if they talk about it they will hurt their careers.”

Huhman says employers need to be aware of the potential downside if they do not encourage an open dialogue about infertility and fail to support employees who require workplace flexibility and job security to pursue their dream of having children.

Of those individuals who did not feel supported, the Come Recommended survey results reveal:

· 30% have quit a job in the past in part because their employer did not allow them to easily get the care they required.
· 27% are actively looking for new job opportunities due to lack of company support. Lack of direct supervisor support (29%) and lack of co-worker support (20%) also influenced their decision to seek other work.
· 32% stay at a job, even though they are unhappy, in order to take advantage of fertility benefits.

“The question becomes, if an employee is not open about their infertility at work, how can an employer offer them support?” Huhman says. “The answer lies in creating an employee experience that assumes their workplace is no exception. That means adopting programs to support all employees, including the one in eight who are struggling with infertility.”