We're coming to the close on National Work and Family Month. And unfortunately, the biggest work-life news this month was about a new employee benefit: egg freezing. Apple and Facebook are both offering to compensate their employees for the cost of saving their eggs for later fertility treatments.
The advocates will tell you it's not that different from adoption benefits. It's a way of assisting employees with the cost of expanding their families. In fact, Facebook even goes so far as to offer a surrogacy benefit.
And we've heard from young professional women who think it's a great idea. But there are some concerning underlying messages here.
First, these companies may be sending not-so-subtle signals that employees should wait to have kids for the sake of their careers.
"Give us your all now," the company says. "Kids can wait. If you have kids, you might put in fewer hours. You might quit, or heaven forbid, want a flexible schedule. So we're going to help you delay that as long as possible."
That in and of itself is problematic. An egg freezing benefit is a signal that this is a workplace where long days are the norm. Where unwavering dedication to the company is expected. Where you have to pay your dues while you're young.
The other message this sends is one of a more medical nature. It's the same message we get when we read about celebrities having babies well into their 40s. We celebrate their miracles, but we spend little time talking about the medical interventions they may have used to make those babies happen.
The overarching message is that it's safe to wait. Meanwhile, the reality of fertility treatments goes unmentioned. Can young women freezing their eggs now fully understand the potential struggle they're setting themselves up for? Can they grasp the challenges of drugs and wildly fluctuating hormones, constant doctor visits, monthly sperm collection, and the exhaustion that mounts with every failed attempt?
And despite fertility clinic claims that is now possible to "stop the clock" on your fertility, a successful pregnancy using frozen eggs is far from guaranteed. And far from cheap. Online estimates and price quotes still place a single IVF cycle around $10,000-$12,000, not including the cost of drugs. And actually thawing those frozen eggs can cost another $5,000.
Are employers coaching employees about that when they're giving away the freezing for free?
Benefits & Programs Vs. Culture Change
The thing is, offering employee benefits is easy. Changing your culture is hard. Instead of creating a workplace culture that embraces family life, these employers are offering an incentive to delay (and thereby possibly deny) parenthood.
Offer the benefit. But go further. Work on restructuring jobs to make workloads reasonable. Better to develop practices that support working parents--and anyone with interests outside of work--than a utilitarian "benefit" that could easily be misread as a make-or-break career imperative.