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How Employer Benefits Impact Your Family Forming Dreams and What to Do About It

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Have you considered how much say your employer’s family health benefits has on your plans to form a family?

A recent survey shows that more than 80% of Americans want better benefits, including paid leave.

I recently wrote an in-depth blog calling for an overhaul in U.S. maternal care, highlighting the uncomfortable reality of being pregnant in America and discussing how maternal care continues to be inaccessible, inconsistent, and unaffordable.

Despite “family” being a core tenet of the American dream, modern challenges and horrors, from formula shortages to school shootings, have become so overwhelming that many people are seriously conflicted about starting a family of their own.

We all know, it shouldn’t be this way.

And that the notion of family will always be central to our lives and experiences, no matter what they look like. Whether a family consists of two people or ten, either chosen or by blood, there is a major lack of resources readily and widely available to welcome, foster, and sustain a healthy family model where children and parents are supported holistically — because they all exist in an ecosystem, not in a vacuum.

To start I believe we can make a difference to improve this reality by demanding more from our work benefits. I mean we spend 30 years of our life working, so our employers need to have our back.

Do You Know Your Benefits?

Maybe you’ve been in a role at a company that hasn’t touched its benefits package in over a decade. Maybe you just accepted a new job offer, but didn’t know how to ask about what personal and family benefits are included in addition to the usual vacation, sick days, and the like. Or maybe, you’re a freelancer and are on your own in figuring out how to prioritize your health and family forming plans.

Ask: What do I currently know about my options as it relates to starting, supporting and growing a family?

Getting informed is the key to identifying and getting what you need.

Personally, I didn’t know what my former employers offered in terms of family support benefits when I was thinking of having children — and even pregnant with them — because I didn’t ask, I was just so glad to have a job. And I didn’t ask because I didn’t feel like I was in the position to ask about it, and I definitely didn’t feel like I had any buying power to request a change with my employer if what they offered wasn’t good enough. With my second child, I was freelancing completely unaware of what opportunities existed to safeguard my family’s future.

It may come as no surprise that the U.S. is severely behind compared to other countries when it comes to quality workplace benefits in general, but for me, what says it all is that the U.S. has zero legally required weeks of parental leave, with no enforcement or expectation from employers to offer anything to their workforce. It’s a drastic figure on its own, and even more so in comparison to the 39 weeks of required leave in Britain, or the astounding 68 weeks of required leave in Sweden (that’s more than a year!).

Pretty unacceptable. Time to get to work.

Here are my ideas on how you can approach your employer to advocate for better benefits so you can create a life and family on your own terms and timeline.

Know Your Benefit Options

Here are a few common, as well as underrepresented, benefits to consider whether you’ve already had a long tenure at your job, just started or are on the hunt for a new employer.

Parental Leave

  • Learn: What is allowed time off according to your plan for you? Same question for your partner and their employment benefits plan?

  • Think: Is this enough for you? What time off do you need to give you the best support in the early days of infancy? What does your support network look like during this time?

  • Ask: Ask your employer about implementing and/or extending the existing minimum of paid maternity and paternity leave to care for a newborn or adoption. Build a case by having conversations/polling your colleagues on what time off they needed or would request.

Job Security

  • Learn: Confirm first and foremost that your role will be available for you without the threat of losing it once you are ready to come back from leave.

  • Think: Do I want to come back to my role in the same way? Is this an opportunity to discuss with my boss changes that would be mutually beneficial given my pending long absence?

  • Ask: Ask your manager to outline a process to reintegrate you when you return from leave so that you are supported. Consider discussing your unique challenges to returning to work, will you be balancing work and a child at home. How will you cope with fatigue or illnesses? Is your manager understanding or not? Can you help them understand?

Fertility Benefits

  • Learn: Check to see if fertility-related services are available, including but not limited to infertility diagnosis, IVF treatments, egg freezing, and surrogacy appointments.

  • Think: Is this something I might in the future want to take advantage of. If it’s important to me, is there enough coverage in the benefits plan to support me when the time comes.

  • Ask: Work with HR and your colleagues to set in motion a plan that everyone agrees with. Do the legwork for HR to find programs like Carrot Fertility or Progyny specifically designed for these benefits and lean on them to lay out the bottom line to your HR department.

Mental Health Services

  • Learn: Ask what resources or options exist to support you or your family during and after any step of your planning journey, such as therapy sessions, pregnancy loss or postpartum depression care.

  • Think: Will I take advantage of these services? Is there someone in-network that will work for me? Can I cover the cash component or will that be prohibitive?

  • Ask: Ask for changes where you see necessary. And as with any of these items, if the plan you have is already good, communicate that to HR. Make sure they know that you are exceedingly pleased with the plan they have made so that it does not get taken away in subsequent years.

Abortion Coverage

  • Learn: Inquire about if and how abortion access or coverage is handled, whether urgent or not, and how your time and health will be supported if this procedure is needed.

  • Think: What information do I need to share in order to take advantage of this coverage? With whom? Am I comfortable with that?

  • Ask: If there are strings attached, work with HR to remove them. Educate them if needed and make a judgment-free, private offering that fully supports you and your colleagues.

Bereavement Leave

  • Learn: Ask about additional leave for the circumstances of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or other pregnancy-related complications, including adoption and surrogacy, resulting in loss.

  • Think: Would this be enough?

  • Ask: Work with your colleagues to have the unthinkable conversations on what support from your employer should look like and then request changes from HR.

The Bottom Line of Parental & Family Care Benefits

Offering better benefits to working individuals is the right thing to do, and it’s what we deserve.

This should be the baseline. The moral argument is obvious, though simply not enough to warrant positive change within our pre-existing structures of power.

That’s where the economic argument holds significant weight in leveraging better benefits.

Paid family and medical leave benefits everyone, including employers. The Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress found extensive positive results of implementing thoughtful and necessary family benefits, including that “businesses gain from retaining workers with firm-specific knowledge and skills, and from not having to bear the sizable costs of finding and training new employees,” with stronger employee satisfaction and improved productivity for the employee. Paid leave also “increases labor force participation and employment-to-population ratios, especially for women,” which bolsters economic growth.

The World Bank’s 2012 report emphasized the greater economic importance of striving for gender equity, particularly focused on efforts that prevent female mortality, as it is critical for larger economic development and success.

Understanding an employer’s perspective will help you further leverage your negotiating abilities. You should consider what is actually beneficial for them, as well as how each employee’s needs will vary case by case.

A lot of factors come into play: company culture, moral arguments on any side of a dice, and what makes economic sense for each company based on their size, industry, and profitability. It is not wrong for them to be thinking in dollars and cents; it’s their job. Communicating to them in terms that are understood and actionable only helps build your case. Make some time to gather high-level information that is relevant to your industry, company, etc. to ensure you are informed and have a solid understanding of how to proactively address their own concerns.

I strongly encourage you to do a temperature check with your colleagues to get their insight and feedback on what they think about your employer’s current benefits. Working together will further help you to feel empowered and prepared in approaching your employer to start a bigger conversation on what is possible based on your shared and unique needs as it relates to family care.

Why Your Personal Advocacy for Better Workplace Benefits Matters

Bringing it back to the individual level, it’s equally important to recognize that everyone is better off when we advocate for these improved benefits — even the ones that do not directly correlate with your needs.

Just because you won’t personally do IVF doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advocate for it for others. This is similar to the idea that just because you do not currently have children but plan to in the near future, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want your current tax dollars to go towards public schools, because you and your family are not getting the immediate benefit of a properly funded education.

When we advocate for each other, we create better opportunities for all. This type of support we give instills a priceless level of security and well-being, something that should be universally experienced.

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