Whether they are on the path to parenthood alone or as part of a couple, in an opposite or same-sex relationship, in the early stages of trying to conceive or facing a long-term struggle with infertility, men are a part of the fertility journey.
Huge strides have been made to break down the taboo surrounding men’s health, with charities like Movember paving the way for men to open up about physical and mental health concerns. Employers are following suit; our study last year of 500 HR leaders revealed that more than two-thirds offer support in the workplace specifically for men, and a further fifth plan to in the next year.
Crucially, progressive employers must ensure their employee health and wellbeing package includes fertility support that is targeted at men – and this is why.
Male-factor infertility rates have been rising for more than 60 years in the developed world – a 2019 study found the percentage of men needing the assistance of a fertility specialist has almost doubled in little over a decade.
A diagnosis of infertility and fertility treatment can take its toll – emotionally, physically and financially. 90 per cent of those who struggle with their fertility experience some level of depression, and half worry it could negatively impact their career prospects.
And it’s not just individuals who are impacted, but their workplace as well. In a study of men and women struggling with fertility, 63 per cent experienced reduced engagement at work and 36 per cent had to take increased sickness absence.
Despite men accounting for roughly half of all fertility problems, fertility is commonly regarded as a ‘women’s issue’ and men are often left sidelined during key conversations. By ignoring men during the fertility journey, feelings of anxiety, shame and guilt can be exacerbated, impacting relationships, performance at work and mental wellbeing.
For gay men, conception often involves surrogacy – and the cost, time, stress and legalities that surround it. Add to that the ignorance and prejudice that still exists, and it’s a doubly challenging path to parenthood.
Organisations that are committed to creating a culture of wellbeing and becoming a diverse, inclusive employer must include specialist support for male fertility. Here are three ways to offer high-impact support:
Men have shown reluctance to voice health concerns, and fertility in particular is a topic that men find harder to talk about. HR teams and line managers are uniquely placed to break the stigma around topics like fertility.
Business leaders must lead by example to normalise these topics. Senior male colleagues could share their own fertility experiences through blog posts, videos or even on a company-wide virtual event.
Across companies, awareness must be raised to help managers understand the male fertility journey and signpost the right support. If a company isn’t convinced that male fertility is an issue facing their workforce, sharing an anonymous staff survey will help them understand the scale of the problem and potential for support.
Digital health benefits are bridging the gaps in gender-specific care, enabling forward-thinking organisations to support the diverse needs of their people quickly, affordably and inclusively.
For men in particular, the shift from in-person to digital healthcare is potentially transformational. In a 2021 study by an NHS-assured health management app, the majority of men said they would prefer a remote consultation to a physical appointment, the main barrier being embarrassment.
Offering remote access, anonymous fertility support gives male colleagues the power to take control of their journey, from ordering home semen analysis kits to accessing unbiased expert answers, without anyone having to know.
Access to human expertise is also essential. A fertility journey of any kind can be emotionally charged and deeply personal – even just over the phone, a human expert can help manage tough conversations where a chatbot will fail.
Specialist health benefits should connect employees one to one with real-life experts, ideally over text-based chat as well as phone or video call, so male colleagues can access the support they need, on their terms.
The need to break down the stigma around male fertility is huge, and initiating an open and honest conversation around fertility in the workplace is the first step. Organisations going beyond this and offering evidence-based resources and support, will make a tangible impact in helping their employees to cope with the highs and lows of fertility treatment, wherever that journey leads.
Francesca Steyn is director of fertility services at Peppy