Katie Lelito always knew she wanted a big family. But after receiving an infertility diagnosis, she could not afford the high cost of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Research uncovered that employers control what fertility benefits are included in their insurance policy. So, Lelito approached her employer at the time, a public university, and convinced them to add infertility coverage.

Still not pregnant, Lelito joined BASF Corporation in Research Triangle Park, N.C., in June 2014. Because BASF's insurance did not offer infertility coverage, she found herself in the same dilemma. However, she worried her new colleagues wouldn't take her seriously if they knew she was trying to start a family.

Ultimately, Lelito decided to share her infertility story, gaining her co-workers' support and respect, and successfully worked with internal teams at BASF to add infertility coverage to the suite of healthcare benefits.

Now BASF's fertility benefits help all employees who want to start a family, including single women, same-sex partners, married couples, or opposite-sex partners. More than 1,500 employees have used the benefit since its introduction in January 2015, including Lelito, who gave birth to her son in November 2016.

Infertility impacts one in eight U.S. couples. Research shows the stress levels of women with infertility are equivalent to those with cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. Yet many struggle silently, especially in the workplace.

According to research conducted by my company, 47 percent of employees with infertility are not open about it in the workplace. Unfortunately, these individuals report a poor employee experience.

Only 29 percent feel supported by their employer. As a result, they quit (30 percent), are actively looking for or are open to new job opportunities (27 percent), or potentially worst of all, they stay even though they are unhappy (32 percent).

Don't wait for an employee to approach you like Lelito did. It's National Infertility Awareness Week, so there's no time like the present to learn how you can step up and support employees with infertility.

1. Offer non-insurance benefits.

Analyze what you can afford and which benefits make sense to pursue as a result. Then, re-evaluate these offerings annually to ensure you're providing your employees the best support possible.

According to our research, here are the top five non-insurance benefits employees with infertility want--and how to implement them:

1. Paid medical leave.

Determine which infertility-related appointments and treatments would qualify for paid medical leave. To better understand the process, consider starting an employee resource group (ERG) devoted to infertility or calling around to local clinics. Treat it as any other paid leave policy in terms of how and when to request paid medical leave.

2. Free or discounted services.

Sign up for a corporate discount program like Fond. Alternatively, approach local providers of well-being services about offering bulk discounts or freebies for employees experiencing infertility.

3. The option to work from home.

An official paid medical leave policy for infertility treatments might become less necessary if your workplace offers a combination of flex-time and the ability to telecommute, either permanently or as needed. This allows employees to work around their appointments and at a time when they're most productive.

4. Access to a fertility coach.

Contract with a company like Progyny to offer employees fertility concierge services (among other benefits), pre-pay for one or more sessions with a specific fertility coach, or purchase an employee assistance program subscription that covers infertility support.

5. Egg freezing.

Egg freezing is expensive. Contact a provider like EggBanxx or Extend Fertility to discuss corporate package options.

2. Expand health insurance to cover infertility.

Even though it may not be mandated by your state, adding infertility coverage to your health insurance plan has many benefits -- and doesn't cost as much as you think.

According to a study by EMD Serono, Path2Parenthood, and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, 91 percent of employers offering infertility treatment have not experienced an increase in their medical costs as a result, and infertility coverage can be provided at less than one percent of total premium cost.

Contact your insurance broker about your options. If you need ideas about how to structure your plan, our research found the three most popular plans included: 1) lifetime maximum of $25,000, 2) all services covered, and 3) lifetime maximum of $10,000 (not a typo).

Don't forget to construct your plan to be inclusive of singles and LGBT couples.

3. Educate and train your team.

Our research found struggling employees would feel more supported if those around them learned more about infertility and how to talk empathetically about it.

Arm employees with resources from trusted organizations like the American Society for Reproductive Medicine to foster a more positive and accepting work environment. Without them, employees will likely make false assumptions or unintentionally isolate employees who are struggling.

Published on: Apr 27, 2017