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Harbert researcher developing workplace best practices to support women employees undergoing IVF
For tens of thousands of women struggling with infertility in the United States, the support they receive—or don’t receive—from their employer can influence their productivity at work. An Auburn University Harbert College of Business professor is conducting research to learn the extent of that influence and what organizations can do to better support their women employees undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.
Kristen Shockley and her research colleagues from Purdue University and the Universities of Arizona and Georgia have received a 2024 Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Small Grant award to complete the research study.
Kristen Shockley, associate professor of management.
“We wanted to first understand simply what are the experiences that women have as they undergo IVF treatment. And beyond that, how do those experiences impact their work lives—such as being able to focus and perform at work, meet their work goals, and how does the IVF experience alter one’s identity as a worker and potential parent,” said Shockley, an associate professor of management.
IVF is an expensive medical process to treat couples experiencing infertility and includes multiple doctor visits during a six-week period, hormone injections to stimulate egg production, embryo creation in the lab, an out-patient implantation procedure, and days of waiting to see if a pregnancy results.
In 2020, fertility clinics around the country performed more than 203,000 IVF cycles, which resulted in the birth of nearly 80,000 infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
The research study
Shockley and her team have already interviewed 40 women who were either undergoing IVF or had completed the treatment in the past two years. From those interviews, they learned that employees experienced less workplace stress at companies that provided IVF insurance coverage, allowed employees to work remotely, and had understanding managers.
“The insurance was a huge part of the ordeal,” said Shockley. “Without insurance, the $30,000 price tag of one IVF round is extremely emotionally and financially stressful, especially if it doesn’t result in a pregnancy.”
Some women who worked remotely appreciated the flexibility and privacy, said Shockley.
“The flexibility in work location made is so they didn’t have to disclose their IVF situation to people at work if they didn’t want to,” she noted. “Disclosing can be hard, particularly if the IVF doesn’t work, and they had to deal with a lot of questions afterwards.”
Not having a sympathetic supervisor created workplace stress for women, especially when it came time to extract their eggs and implant the embryos—processes that may require women to show up at the clinic on short notice and during normal working hours.
In the second part of the study, Shockley and her colleagues will collect quantitative data, following women throughout their IVF cycles to get a sense of their weekly experiences and how those impact their work behaviors. They will also examine how supportive workplaces buffer or exacerbate the stressful experience of IVF.
At the end of the study, Shockley plans to create and disseminate informational material for employers so they’ll know how best to support their workers undergoing fertility treatment.
“What bothers me is that infertility is still a taboo topic in society and in the workplace and it shouldn’t be,” Shockley said. “Employees should feel like they can get support at work if they want to, or if they want to be private about it and not disclose to people at work, that’s ok, too. We should set up systems where we’re helping people get the best outcome.”
Shockley’s research colleagues on the project are Purdue Professor of Management Allison Gabriel and doctoral candidate Aqsa Dutli, University of Arizona Associate Professor of Management and Organizations Katina Sawyer, and University of Georgia doctoral candidate Hope Dodd.
The Small Grants award is sponsored by the SIOP Foundation and supports research that is of interest to academics and practitioners. Shockley’s 2024 award marks the second time she has received this type of SIOP research funding. In 2013 while she was a faculty member at Baruch College in New York City, Shockley and colleagues used an SIOP Small Grant to examine how people reacted to discrete experiences of work-family conflict and how those reactions impacted subsequent behaviors at home.
Learn more about Kristen Shockley’s research.
The Harbert College of Business, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Raymond and Kathryn Harbert's transformational naming gift, is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our world-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while our research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice across business disciplines. The largest college on Auburn's campus, Harbert enrolls more than 6,900 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.