If you’re an employer, you probably already know which of your employees have kids at home. And assuming you’re a good employer, you’re doing your part to ensure those workers have the information and flexibility they need to be able to succeed both at work and as a parent. But statistics show that most employers aren’t so accommodating when it comes to the millions of working Americans who are providing care for an aging friend or relative.
In fact, even though one in six employed Americans reports assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled loved one, a third of those workers say their employer is unaware. What’s more, in Caring.com’s most recent annual survey, 71 percent of working caregiver respondents reported that caregiving has had a negative impact on their job. With an aging Baby Boomer population and ever-longer lifespans, the tug-of-war that working caregivers face has only become more prevalent, with no signs of slowing.
Research shows that providing support for caregiver employees doesn’t just help those workers – it can make a big difference to a company’s bottom line. One surprising study revealed that working caregivers’ lost productivity (due to absenteeism, distractions and lower work status) costs employers up to $34 billion each year. But providing adequate support and flexibility for these workers can help them maximize their productivity.
So what can employers do to attract and retain the best talent, regardless of their caregiving situation? And how can they help ensure that the family caregivers on their staff aren’t forced to choose between family obligations and work?
What follows are some important steps managers and employers can take to provide the support their caregiver employees need for better productivity and the overall success of the business.
1. Talk to Your Employees and Provide Information
Since statistics show that you may not even be aware of employees who are providing unpaid elder care, a first critical step would be to talk to them and learn which individuals are fulfilling this role. Managers might ask their direct reports during one-on-one meetings or performance reviews about any responsibilities they’re handling outside of work, including caring for an elderly loved one. Let workers know you have an open-door policy for them to voice any additional responsibilities they may be facing at home and that you want to help.
Once you’re aware of who your caregiver employees are, make sure they have the information they need. Let them know about the services that are available to help care for their aging loved ones. (And for the millions of U.S. workers who are part of the so-called Sandwich Generation, you may want to include childcare options in that discussion). You might start by letting them know about senior care referral services, and by listing those organizations in your online and printed employee assistance program materials. You may also want to host or direct these employees to educational webinars about different senior care assistance programs. If you're unsure of where to start, Respect a Caregiver's Time (ReAct) is a coalition of organizations dedicated to helping working caregivers overcome the challenges of juggling work and caregiving and to alleviate the burden to companies that hire them.
2. Be Flexible
Most caregivers will need a more accommodating schedule to ensure they can manage their responsibilities both at work and at home. This can be an asset for companies too – research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that employer flexibility has a huge effect on worker retention and morale.
And although many Americans qualify for up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the many restrictions under the law mean that an estimated 40 million caregivers are ineligible. Even for those who do qualify, FMLA doesn’t take into account family caregivers who face ongoing caregiving responsibilities, or those who simply can’t manage the financial strain of forgoing three months of income.
Consider ways you can accommodate your caregiving employees’ schedules – that may mean offering adequate paid time off or temporary leaves of absence. Other important considerations include flextime, telecommuting options, emergency day care for both adults and children or schedule adjustments like allowing a four-day, 40-hour workweek, or a part-time schedule. This level of flexibility allows working caregivers to juggle their duties both at work and at home without having to choose between the two.
3. Propose Financial Solutions
Family caregivers, especially those who are part of the Sandwich Generation, are shouldering sizable financial burdens. About half of the elder caregivers polled in Caring.com’s most recent annual survey reported spending more than $5,000 on caregiving expenses over the previous year, and 9% said they spent a whopping $50,000 or more.
Working caregivers facing these types of financial constraints will be more likely to seek out companies that provide perks like matching contributions to retirement savings, or flexible spending accounts and robust employee assistance programs. It’s also a good idea to offer fiscal education and guidance to help caregiver employees, such as workshops and webinars or meetings either in person or via phone with retirement plan sponsors who can give financial advice.
4. Create a Caregiver-Friendly Culture
By taking the above steps, you’ll already have made big strides toward creating a workplace culture that’s friendly and non-discriminatory toward caregivers. This accommodating, compassionate work environment can have a major effect on employed caregivers. Family caregivers face higher stress levels, rates of anxiety and depression and risk of chronic illnesses than the general population, but a supportive work environment can help alleviate some of that stress. Some research suggests that the social support and respite from caregiving that work provides can be an important factor in boosting an employed caregiver’s overall sense of well-being.
As an employer, you can ensure additional, ongoing support for caregiver employees by hosting formal or informal support groups, workshops and webinars where co-workers can share common experiences, coping mechanisms and strategies for juggling work and caregiving duties.
With a growing elderly population comes a rising need for unpaid help from family caregivers, so the likelihood of hiring at least one of these individuals is also greater. Why limit your pool of qualified, talented employees by failing to offer the resources, support and flexibility these workers need to thrive? By creating a more accommodating workplace, you’re not only boosting your business’s chances of success, you’re helping reinforce a society with more economic opportunity for some of the most selfless people among us -- the family caregivers.
Dayna Steele is Caring.com's Chief Caring Expert and the author of Surviving Alzheimer's with Friends, Facebook, and a Really Big Glass of Wine.