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We are family: How organisations can use family forming benefits effectively

October 25, 2023

Starting a family is a major life decision with a multiplicity of impacts. It is crucial that organisations wishing to recruit and retain talent consider offering supportive benefits and policies.
Health and Benefits

Extending beyond traditional maternity and paternity leave, modern day fit-for-purpose family forming workplace programmes should cater for wide-ranging family structures including single-parenting and same sex couples.

HR policies, benefits, and educational materials providing support in this area boosts employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity.

Christie Hedge who is a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist within WTW’s Health and Benefits Wellbeing Team, explores some of the different types of family forming support options that are currently available.

Provide pre-emptive and clear policies

Having HR policies to cover all family forming scenarios, including miscarriage or baby loss, is an essential reference point for employees and line managers and demonstrates that an organisation prioritises employee wellbeing.

It is not stipulated in law for all family forming scenarios that employers should allow time off for appointments, for example medical appointments for fertility and social worker appointments for adoption, for example. However, in the UK it is common practice for employers to formally or informally allow flexible working or time off.

Formally documenting leave allowances makes the treatment fair for all and non-discretionary. By having comprehensive policies in place detailing pay entitlements, leave or flexible working allowances, will ensure employees do not have to contend with unnecessary work-related anxieties during what can be a very stressful time.

In order to be truly inclusive, the rights afforded to employees should be equal, regardless of how their family is formed. For example, statutory adoption pay and statutory adoption leave should also afforded to those who have had children via surrogacy.

To ensure clarity on this, and all family forming-related benefits and procedures, company policies should be easily accessible and effectively communicated to staff.

Navigation support and funding

Employers can further support employees and their dependants by providing education and signposting services to help them navigate the complex healthcare and fertility support landscape. There are a number of specialised inclusive healthcare vendors in the UK and the wider global market who can provide virtual one-to-one consultations with experts. This can be an effective route for supporting staff during what can be a highly emotional journey.

Given the challenges we are seeing in the NHS, such as funding limitations, inequities in fertility treatment funding for same-sex partners or single people, and extended wait times, employers could also consider providing funding towards any private treatment or costs associated with the employees’ family forming journey. For example, funding towards infertility diagnostics, assisted fertility treatment, egg freezing, as well as support for employees planning adoption, surrogacy, and more. This funding can be provided through a private healthcare plan, or via one of the specialised inclusive healthcare vendors.

Consideration could also be given to signing up to the Family Workplace Pledge, which involves organisations establishing the role of a fertility ambassador who can be a source of information and who can engage employees to raise awareness and build a supportive climate.

Address the mental health pressures

Embarking on a family forming journey can present psychological as well as physical challenges, and such anxieties can increase the risk of infertility.

Mental health wellbeing benefits, such as mindfulness apps, tools and wearables can provide self-managed support. The range of physical health benefits, too, can be promoted, with educational classes and literature highlighting the positive effects of exercise on mental health.

Embrace responsibilities

Failure to cater for the numerous routes to family-forming that employees may wish to take in HR policies and benefit plans means organisations risk alienating employees and suffering both operationally and reputationally.

Few benefits can transform employees’ lives in such a fundamental way, or strengthen engagement and commitment to such a degree, as those which help to support employees on their family building journey.

WTW has expert advisers to ensure organisations’ family forming benefits are market-competitive and affordable based on the available budget.

Among the services they provide are reviews of existing policies and benefits and services, gap analyses to identify what can be improved and enhanced, and assistance in vendor selection or benefit design itself.


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