Benefits and Compensation

How to Provide Flexible Forms of Employee Support Like Fertility Benefits

As companies rethink the benefits they offer amid shifting employee demands and expectations since the COVID-19 pandemic, HR teams have to focus on providing more robust and flexible support for their workforces. This means surveying employees to identify their individual needs, exploring non-traditional benefits that provide a competitive edge in hiring and retention, and understanding how reliant many employees are on certain benefits.

For example, women are increasingly seeking out employers that offer fertility benefits. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an expensive procedure that isn’t covered by most health insurance plans, which is why some women are taking second jobs at companies that will help them pay for it. If an employee is willing to take another job for fertility benefits alone, she clearly considers those benefits a top personal priority. HR teams are responsible for determining which benefits are essential for each employee and figuring out how to allocate resources to meet the needs of a diverse workforce – a process that requires open communication and flexibility.

When companies give employees the support they need, this increases retention, improves productivity, and builds a healthier workplace culture. The growing popularity of fertility benefits illustrates how HR teams can support employees in a more holistic way. This support is a key competitive differentiator in the battle for talent, and employees who feel supported help the company better serve its customers.

The Demand for Fertility Benefits

There are few decisions in life more important than when and how to start a family, which is why it’s no surprise that fertility treatments are increasingly common. According to Pew, 42 percent of American adults say they or people they know have used fertility treatments, rising from 33 percent five years ago. Sixty-one percent of Americans (and 64 percent of women) believe these treatments should be covered by health insurance.

But for costly procedures like IVF, employees often have no coverage. With a single round of IVF costing between $15,000 and $30,000 out-of-pocket, it makes sense that employees are willing to take drastic measures (like working a second job) to relieve this huge financial burden. Among the employers that don’t offer fertility benefits or financial support for IVF, 55 percent cite “concerns about potential increased costs.” However, 97 percent of the companies that provide these benefits (including those that cover IVF) say they haven’t experienced a significant cost increase.

The second-most cited reason for not providing fertility benefits is the view that there’s “little demand” for these benefits from employees, but as the Pew survey indicates, this is not the case. The only way for HR teams to find out if employees need fertility benefits – or any other benefit – is to ask them directly.

Expectations Around Employee Benefits Have Shifted

Employees are increasingly frustrated with conventional benefits packages that don’t meet their unique needs. The successful shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic permanently changed the way employees think about how and where they work. Beyond the fact that hybrid work is here to stay – 87 percent of employees who are given the opportunity to work remotely take it – employees expect a greater level of autonomy and flexibility across the board. Ninety-five percent of knowledge workers say they would like to set their own hours, while three-quarters would be more loyal to an employer that provides on-demand pay.

The demand for fertility benefits is another clear sign that employees want HR teams to meet their individual needs. If an employee is willing to accept the responsibility of a second job for fertility benefits, it’s a safe bet that these benefits take precedence over just about anything else a company can offer. For example, these employees clearly have limited use for PTO, as they’re spending potential vacation and personal time at another workplace. Many of the women who take jobs to pay for treatments like IVF quit once those treatments are completed – another sign that fertility benefits are an overriding priority.

It has never been more important for companies to build their benefits packages around the specific needs of increasingly diverse workforces. The demand for fertility benefits is a clear example of employees’ emphasis on flexibility in the workplace, and the HR teams that make this a core focus will give their companies a major competitive advantage.

Providing Flexible Support

IVF coverage is a particularly expensive fertility benefit, and the proportion of companies that offer this coverage has risen from 20 percent in 2019 to 25 percent today. Employers say their top five reasons for providing fertility benefits are: ensuring that employees have access to high-quality, cost-effective care; remaining competitive in talent attraction and retention; being recognized as a “family-friendly” company; supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion; and responding to employees’ requests.

These are all reminders that flexible benefits are becoming a competitive necessity, which is why HR teams need to determine how they can provide these benefits more effectively. One way to do so is by repurposing existing benefits that employees aren’t fully leveraging, such as PTO. Just over a quarter of American workers say they use all their PTO, and employees left an average of almost ten vacation days on the table in 2021. Convertible PTO allows employees to take the value of their unused vacation time and put it toward other financial priorities, such as student loan payments, retirement contributions, and fertility benefits.

Given the widespread under-utilization of PTO – along with the demand for non-traditional forms of support like fertility benefits – it’s no wonder that 90 percent of employees say convertible benefits would make them more likely to stay with an employer. At a time when greater flexibility is top of mind for employees, HR teams need to be more creative and holistic about the ways they support their workforces. Flexible forms of support like fertility benefits are a critical part of this transition.

Rob Whalen is co-founder and CEO of PTO Exchange.

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