One in six people will struggle with infertility – can you talk to your boss?

Having IVF treatment was life-changing for Sarah Dixon, now a mother to a two-year-old daughter – her experiences of trying to balance fertility treatment and the demands of a professional career prompted a career change. She is now the project development officer for Fertility in the Workplace for the charity Fertility Network UK, which is campaigning for better support in the workplace.

She says: “Most women only tell their employer they are pregnant after 12 weeks, when the risks of early loss are reduced. They also have a legal right to take time off for appointments and protections for their position.

“However, those going through fertility treatment have no rights, and they need to share with their employer deeply personal information that they may not have told their family or close friends. For me I could hardly say the word ‘IVF’ without choking up.

“Going through the experience myself made me aware that few employers have fertility policies, despite one in six people being affected by fertility struggles, and awareness of the impact of infertility on emotional wellbeing is very low.

“Also, it is difficult for the employee to know how to tell their boss about their treatment, and the implications it may have, without jeopardising their career.”

Sarah is the guest speaker at the Bourn Hall Fertility Support Group on 13th September 2023, a virtual group which is open to everyone experiencing infertility – not just Bourn Hall patients. She will be sharing her experiences and those of others and giving advice on how to balance work and infertility.

Bourn Hall Medical director Dr Thanos Papathanasiou was promoted to CEO earlier this year and he says that there is also a role for fertility clinics to become more workplace-friendly, which extends beyond offering flexible appointments.

“Providing a supportive environment for employees requiring fertility treatment provides a powerful incentive to join and stay with a company. It is good to hear from Fertility Network UK that there is significant demand for their support in creating policies and training staff to be more ‘fertility aware’.

“As fertility specialists our focus has always been on maximising the opportunities for a successful outcome, but now there is greater awareness that emotional wellbeing is an important element of this. We changed many of our practices during the pandemic, such as introducing virtual consultations and reducing the number of in-person appointments, and patients say that this also helps them to fit treatment around the pressures of work.

“However, we are also looking to go further and offer a choice of patient-focused treatments. Some people, like primary school teachers, like to schedule treatments to fit in with their time pressures, however for others the side-effects of hormone treatments are more of an issue, and they would prefer to be more flexible over timing to reduce the impacts of medication.”

Sarah says that Bourn Hall’s approach is welcomed and stresses that infertility impacts both men and women.

“Men don’t always go through so much of the physical procedures, but it can affect them mentally and they can often bottle up these feelings as they try to support their partner.

“Having an awareness and sensitivity in the workplace about infertility will make it easier for people to be more open and gain the support they need. For the employer it also improves staff retention.

“Fertility Network’s research found the average person going through an IVF cycle will need between 8-10 flexible working days for appointments, scans, egg collection and embryo transfer. Clinic appointments often overrun or are called on last minute, meaning workplace flexibility is essential.”

If you are struggling with infertility and would like hear Sarah share her experiences and advice, book a place at the next Fertility Support Group on 13th September 2023.

If you are an employer keen to provide a supportive environment, see more info at

 [Main image shows Sarah Dixon with Jackie Stewart, independent fertility counsellor]

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