When Facebook and Apple began offering egg-freezing benefits to employees in 2014, the move was seen as typical Silicon Valley. The creative if unconventional perk helped attract and keep younger tech talent, but it was out of reach to all but a tiny slice of the U.S. workforce.
Now, at a time when companies will do just about anything to recruit and retain workers, fertility benefits have gone from novelty to a must-have for many companies.
Thanks to the pandemic, which brought on today’s tight labor market, corporations have had to find unusual ways to attract and keep prized employees, said Rachael McCann, senior director at Willis Towers Watson, an insurance advisory and brokerage firm. The fertility benefit has become one of the more popular approaches, she said. “It’s absolutely grown.”
In the U.S., demand for workers is far outstripping supply. There are currently about 1.8 open jobs for every unemployed worker, well above the pre-COVID ratio of 1.2. As a result, employers are ratcheting up pay and offering perks that were unheard of prior to 2020 — including covering college tuition and paying bonuses to employees who don’t miss work.
Employers are also offering plusher health care packages, including providing expanded mental-health coverage, to compete for talent.
Companies are finding that fertility benefits are increasingly popular among female employees — particularly those between the ages of 25 and 40. The benefit is also important for couples with a diagnosis of infertility, same-sex couples and single individuals, as well as those who have been unable to conceive naturally or are starting families later in life.
“In the five years before the pandemic, we saw a lot of interest but not a lot of buying,” said Kate Ryder, chief executive officer of Maven Clinic, a family planning provider whose clients include Snap, BuzzFeed and Boston Scientific. The loss of valuable staff in the so-called “Great Resignation,” the desire to provide more help to burnt-out parents and the push to have more-inclusive workplaces all led companies to consider fertility benefits, she said. “Now everyone’s buying.”
The most prevalent type of fertility package caps benefits per employee. One example is a $25,000 lifetime benefit, which would cover about two rounds of in-vitro fertilization treatments, or slightly more than one cycle of egg freezing.
But $25,000 can run out quickly. Three IVF cycles, for example, are the most clinically effective approach for women under 40, according to some studies. Patients can also experience added costs, including egg or embryo storage and medications needed for IVF.
Survey data from workforce consultant Mercer showed that as late as 2015, just under a quarter of large employers (500 or more employees) covered IVF. But in 2020, the figure rose to 27%. And last year, it jumped to 36%.
The percentage of large employers covering egg-freezing benefits, meanwhile, climbed to 15% in 2021 from just 5% in 2015, the Mercer data show.
The breadth of companies offering fertility benefits has also spread far beyond tech. Carrot Fertility, a global fertility-benefits provider, mostly saw interest from companies also in financial services and consulting prior to the pandemic, said Chief Executive Officer Tammy Sun.
In the last two years, Carrot has added clients in the food and beverage, retail, automotive and manufacturing industries. They’re also working with labor unions and municipalities. Revenue has grown by about 400% in the last year, Sun said. The closely held company declined to provide further financial details.
“This has been a huge part of our attraction campaign,” said Aja Harbert, human resources director at B Capital Group, a Los Angeles venture capital firm that started offering a fertility benefit through Carrot in 2021. She said it helped convince four candidates to accept job offers. “It kind of pushed them over the edge when they had competing offers,” she said.
Increased employer investment in fertility benefits has also helped vendors offer a more holistic approach to family planning. Two years ago, many of the family-planning vendors “felt more like tech startups,” and have since “grown by leaps and bounds,” said McCann of Willis Towers Watson.
Maven Clinic, for example, offers fertility treatments and education, as well as physical and mental support, from preconception through postpartum.
When Priscilla Martinez, a senior industry account manager at Microsoft in Chicago, was having trouble conceiving, she was able to get pregnant after using Maven Clinic’s nutrition and fertility counseling services. She had her first child in early 2021 and has continued to use Maven’s new-parent support classes.
Martinez said she didn’t put much thought into benefits when looking for jobs in the past. But now that she’d like to have a second child, her mindset has changed. “It’s definitely something that has helped” keep her in the job, Martinez said.
In the past, employers didn’t want to offer fertility benefits because of concerns about higher costs, given how expensive treatments like IVF and egg freezing are, said Samantha Purciello, senior associate at Mercer. But 97% of employers surveyed by Mercer said that adding the benefit didn’t lead to a significant increase in their costs, according to the company.
One way employers can keep costs down is by capping benefits, and the vast majority do. The most common is a lifetime dollar maximum, and of those, $16,250 is the median amount, Mercer data show. About 13% of companies restrict the number of IVF and egg-freezing cycles to three.
Companies won’t bear the brunt of the costs unless employees take advantage of the benefits, and very few actually do. Mercer estimates that less than 3% of women might need such treatments.
Still, as more Americans postpone starting families, fertility benefits have become “one of the most important talent retention and attraction tools on the table,” said Carrot Fertility’s Sun.