A father with a child (Credit: Shutterstock)

Companies are evolving to offer a broader family-building benefit that accommodates a more diverse section of the employee population. Benefit packages that include adoption and surrogacy under a single “family-building benefit” are more helpful to today’s employee workforce. In an effort to attract and retain top talent, employers have expanded their family-building benefits to be inclusive of gay couples, transgender people, and, now, men.

The conversation about fertility is often focused on women, but fertility is also very much a man’s issue: up to 50% of infertility cases are attributed to men, according to a 2015 article in the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences.

My Personal Journey With Male Factor Infertility

I lived through a very long and challenging journey with my wife on our way to having our four children. Most of the support was focused on the patient (my wife), as it should have been. I, however, felt unprepared to emotionally support my wife while coping with the stresses of the process myself.

Having guidance on how to support my partner, and even some relationship counseling, would have been extremely helpful.

In addition to the myriad conditions my wife was facing that were impeding pregnancy, I had sperm motility issues. We did not have coverage to help me with my issues, and certainly no coverage for mental health support or guidance. This was not something that I was comfortable speaking about. I was lost, but no one could know.

Tom Smith, who is the co-founder and CEO of Dadi, an at-home sperm testing and storage company, has put it this way:

The conversations about fertility have historically centered around women.

(Related: When Clients Want to Build a Family)

This has not only placed an undue burden on women, but has also resulted in men having fewer planning options and emotional support along their fertility journeys,

In a 2017 study by the Fertility Network UK on the male experience with infertility, men reported feeling excluded and marginalized by the attention and focus directed toward their female partners. Men perceived a lack of emotional support services provided by health care professionals and the fertility clinics they encountered.

In the study, Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network said the following:

Men are half of the fertility equation; when they cannot create a family they long for without medical help they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do, yet our major new survey with Leeds Beckett University shows that men’s needs are far too often ignored, with support scarce before, during and after fertility treatment. This is unacceptable; we hope this survey will challenge the silence around male infertility and facilitate more male support groups.

Benefits Supporting Men

Today, the optics on family-building benefits offered by companies look quite different from when my wife and I were trying to build our family. Paternity leave, which is a new benefit trend, allows men to take the same or similar leave available to women once the baby is born. Many companies offer attractive, if not competitive, paternity leave packages to convince prospective talent to choose their company over another. Companies understand that a benefit with personalized clinical advocacy and emotional support for both the patient and the partner is essential.

This means that the woman is getting the support she needs, and now the male partner is too. Employers are now offering benefits that include emotional support for men, like our new WIN for HIM program. At our company, the addition of benefits for men was driven, in part, by my experience of not having the support I needed when my wife and I were trying to conceive.

The move to provide fertility and infertility benefits, including emotional support benefits, for men is a tectonic shift away from assuming that male-factor infertility is silent, or non-existent, and toward offering equal assistance for both men and women.

The ability to plan ahead for a family has also come a long way, with services men can draw from to start their family planning early. Men can now test their sperm and benefit from behavioral health and clinical advocacy without leaving their own homes. At-home sperm testing allows men to get information without visiting a medical facility, something few men want to do, and to avoid any sense of shame or occlusion when seeking help.

The emotional process of going through infertility is very real for both men and women. Employers who are supporting the modern family’s efforts to cope with infertility understand that they have a unique ability to make the family-building journey less stressful for those involved.

A benefits package that covers a wider swath of needs for today’s employee population makes a company both attractive to talent and illustrates that the company is a partner in the employee’s personal journey, as much as in the professional journal. The value of this type of support is immeasurable for employees who are seeking the highest level of assistance when planning a family.

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Peter Nieves serves as the chief commercial officer for WINFertility.