The Caregiver Crisis: How Employers Can Help

How many employees provide care for a child? For a parent? Grandparent? If you are an employer wondering which of your employees currently are or may soon become caregivers, the answer is simple: All of them.

“It’s not a question of if, but when,” Jeryn Laengrich, Chief Service Officer of Cariloop, told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Annual Conference and Exposition in Chicago, while discussing the findings of a white paper on caregivers in the workplace released jointly by Cariloop and Facebook.

According to the white paper, as caregiving affects more and more employees, it also has a negative impact on businesses that fail to address caregiving-related issues. Fortunately, it’s possible for employers to avert the problem by providing employees with the means to better handle caregiving challenges and reduce some of the stress and anxiety of trying to balance their work and caregiving responsibilities.

Caregivers in Crisis

The Family Caregiver Alliance defines a caregiver as an unpaid individual – such as a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor – who plays a critical role in helping a loved one with daily activities and medical tasks. Increasingly, employees find themselves at some point acting as a caregiver, be it for a newborn, a sick child, an adult family member with a life-limiting disease, a sibling, an aging parent or grandparent, or even a friend or neighbor.

In the US, 20% of the adult population (over 43 million people) act as unpaid caregivers. In the workplace, millennials (employees between 18 and 39) have become the largest group of caregivers, and the most impacted, with 68% of employed millennials serving as caregivers. Additionally, 62% percent of Gen-Xers and 37% of baby boomers in the workplace are caregivers.

For many employees, caregiving is comparable to holding down a second job, and the lines between their work and personal lives can become blurry. “Employees give two and a half weeks of caregiving per month,” said Laengrich. “That’s in addition to their work.”

Employees acting as caregivers can feel distressed and distracted at work by the list of duties that require their attention or that await them at home. In addition to expected tasks such as preparing meals, providing personal care, assisting with finances and managing medications, caregiving has expanded to include broader responsibilities like helping navigate health coverage, participating in therapy sessions, finding and arranging assisted living or alternative housing options or providing other “behind the scenes” support.

These extra duties can take a toll on employee caregivers physically, financially and at the workplace. About one in 10 caregivers report that caregiving has caused their physical health to get worse. And caregivers pay an average $6,954 in additional out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving every year. In the workplace, the study reported that among employee caregivers:

  • 49% arrive at work late, leave early or take time off;
  • 15% take a leave of absence;
  • 14% reduce their hours or take a demotion;
  • 7% receive a warning about performance/attendance;
  • 5% turn down a promotion;
  • 4% choose early retirement;
  • 3% lose job benefits; and
  • 6% stop working entirely.

In addition, 69% of working caregivers reported having to rearrange their work schedule, decrease their hours or take unpaid leave in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities.

Businesses see the impact of this problem in the form of absenteeism, lost productivity, rising healthcare costs for caregivers and higher turnover. In the US, businesses lose between $17.1 billion and $33.6 billion annually on lost productivity, depending on the level of caregiving involved. According to the white paper, that averages $2,110 for every full-time worker who cares for an adult.

Despite this, 47% of businesses do not offer flexible work hours or paid sick leave. And only 32% of employers offer paid family leave, only 23% offer employee assistance programs and just 22% allow telecommuting, regardless of an employee’s caregiving burden.

How Employers Can Help

Many people consider it an honor to provide caregiving, and in many instances, these individuals sacrifice their work/life balance and risk losing their jobs. “Employee caregivers need time to care for a loved one without jeopardizing their good standing at work,” said Michael Walsh, Cariloop CEO and lead editor of the white paper. “They also need supportive services to help navigate the complex decisions required when caregiving.”

The good news is that there are many steps employers can take to help employees balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. It’s not always a matter of “throwing money at the problem” and offering more benefits. Instead, employers can find innovative and strategic ways to apply benefits and to tap into programs that support employee caregivers. Sometimes a solution can be as simple as expanding existing benefits such as flexible schedules or work arrangements, informing employees about existing benefits, such as an EAP or leave bank, or broadening the definitions in a family care leave program to include more types of caregivers and family members of all ages.

Other benefits that employers may consider offering to support employee caregivers include:

  • On-site eldercare;
  • Long-term insurance for parents, in-laws, grandparents and grandparents-in-law;
  • Counseling and referrals specific to caregiving;
  • Out-of-pocket eldercare expenses with tax-free dollars; and
  • Seminars on eldercare issues.

These are only some of the ways employers can support employee caregivers, and there are easy options available. For example, employees have requested things as simple as having better information about the best benefit services for themselves and their family members.

Additionally, employers can use opportunities to create communities, Laengrich told attendees. Often just knowing you aren’t alone, and have someone to share your experience with goes a long way. “Employers can even set up private Facebook groups for free that focus on caregiver employees,” said Laengrich.

It’s important to provide clear policies on caregiving in the employee handbook, along with definitions of “caregiving responsibilities” and “family.” The modern family is evolving, so consider including time off to care for in-laws, cousins and aunts or uncles. Laengrich pointed out that, “Benefits tend to target spouses and children, but caregiving extends to the whole family and even friends and neighbors.”

The Facebook Example

Facebook is an example of one company’s successful approach to caregivers. “Caregiver support is part of our DNA,” says Renee Albert, Facebook’s Director of Benefits. She claims that Facebook’s parental and bereavement leave policies are “some of the best in the industry, if not the country.”

In 2015, Facebook announced that it had extended their bereavement leave policy to include up to 10 days for extended family and 20 days for immediate family. Employees also are allowed to take up to six weeks of paid leave within a rolling 12-month period to be with a family member who is ill.

Facebook has cited increased productivity, stronger retention, decreased absenteeism and reduced healthcare costs as key drivers that make a compelling case for and show the return on investment (ROI) of caregiving benefits, programs and services.

When considering caregiver benefits, the most important thing an employer can do is to ask employees a lot of questions – then listen. Employers also should keep the following recommendations from Facebook in mind:

  1. Data is a key driver, so learn your company’s demographics to fully understand the issues you are trying to solve.
  2. Use workplace platforms and focus groups to better appreciate the root causes before designing a benefit option.
  3. Sometimes, the answers are simple. Creativity comes from the experiences people share.
  4. Don’t be bound by tradition. Identify the challenges and opportunities and “think outside the box.” If your company doesn’t offer a formal employee assistance program, offer different tools and supports.
  5. For smaller employers that can’t afford paid leave, give caregivers more schedule flexibility. Use platforms that can grow organically and that don’t require long implementations or additional resources.

Has your company taken steps to support employee caregivers? What policies and programs did you find successful? Please, share them with us in the comments below.

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