Going through fertility treatment can be physically and emotionally gruelling, yet the majority of people keep treatment a secret while in the workplace.
Just 15% of people going through fertility treatment feel able to talk openly about it at work, according to new research by the charity Tommy’s, released for UK Fertility Awareness Week.
The vast majority of those surveyed (86%) said they had to put on a brave face at work while undergoing treatment, and most (62%) had worked when they didn’t really feel capable.
This is despite the fact that fertility treatment often causes physical discomfort such as bruising and abdominal pain, plus a significant strain on mental health. On top of this, there are usually multiple medical appointments to juggle alongside your work schedule.
Almost three quarters (71%) of those surveyed felt unable to answer honestly if colleagues asked how they were, with many worried about being judged (57%) and feeling like they didn’t fit in at work anymore (43%).
Civil servant Liz struggled to balance the demands of her job with treatment when undergoing several rounds of IVF last year. “The internal turmoil is really intensified at work, because you want to be professional and worry that people won’t see you the same way if they know what’s going on, but it’s also really unhelpful to keep stress bottled up,” she told the charity.
“I always felt guilty having to leave the office for IVF, because it’s not like other long-term health issues that you feel able to discuss openly; I worried about people judging me for taking calls or going to appointments when they didn’t know why.”
The physical and emotional challenges of fertility issues are intensified at work when presenteeism is valued – 80% of people undergoing treatment were stressed about how medical appointments would impact their work, and 74% felt like they were letting people down if they needed time off.
Roughly half (53%) of people going through fertility treatment weren’t sure what support they were entitled to at work, with many (42%) feeling they couldn’t even ask, while a quarter (24%) had sadly asked for help but not received it. Most (56%) said they would or have left a job over lack of support during this challenging time.