Egg-freezing benefits at work may be perceived as more pressure than perk, according to a new study. Driven by a need to stay competitive and recruit and retain the best talent, more organizations are covering egg-freezing costs for their employees. But companies should be cautious about touting this benefit because it may backfire when recruiting new employees.
Egg freezing can be an option for women who want to postpone pregnancy. An egg frozen when a woman is young generally has a better chance of fertilization than a fresh egg from an older woman. Some cancers and treatments can impact fertility, so women with these conditions may also choose to freeze their eggs.
Yet the procedure is expensive. Depending on how long eggs are kept, egg retrieval fees, hormone treatments, annual storage, and IVF using the thawed eggs can run up to $20,000. Some have referred to the procedure as “an expensive lottery ticket” since there’s no guarantee that egg-freezing will result in a viable pregnancy. One calculator estimates that a 35-year-old who freezes ten mature eggs has a 69% chance of at least one live birth.
Despite the costs, as of 2020, almost one in five (19%) large U.S. employers offered egg-freezing benefits to their employees. That’s up from only 6% in 2015. The latest push to offer more fertility benefits to employees comes as organizations strive to hire a diverse set of talented employees. However, new research suggests that some may interpret egg-freezing benefits as a signal that the company expects them to sacrifice their personal life for work.
The new research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that egg-freezing benefits send a negative signal to employees and prospective employees. The problem is that some feel the company is encouraging employees to freeze eggs so they can work more years unencumbered by pregnancy and child-rearing. So, the benefit can inadvertently signal that the organization pressures workers to sacrifice their personal life. As a result, study participants had negative reactions to egg-freezing and the organizations that offer the benefit.
Although the benefit is targeted at women, egg-freezing policies decrease attraction to an organization for both men and women equally. “Rather than being an effective strategy for recruiting female talent, egg-freezing coverage may backfire,” the researchers conclude.
Nonetheless, the researchers don’t suggest that companies scrap their egg-freezing policies. “Despite the negative reactions egg freezing coverage evokes, our work does not imply organizations should not offer the policy; it is likely a valued benefit for employees who would like to freeze their eggs and could not otherwise afford to do so. Rather, organizations that offer egg-freezing coverage should take steps to mitigate negative reactions,” they write. Indeed, there is a growing interest. The number of women choosing to freeze eggs rose to 12,438 in 2020 from 7,193 in 2016.
They suggest that organizations acknowledge that egg-freezing coverage may send the wrong signal and counter that by explicitly stating that they don’t expect many employees to use the benefit. They also recommend organizations not tout the benefit to prospective employees who may be trying to form their initial impressions of the company.