Imagine working a full day at your job, coming home to care for your children, and then just when you’re ready to collapse into bed for the night, having to manage medical decisions for a parent who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. With an estimated 53 million individuals currently providing unpaid care to adults and children, this scenario – or one much like it – is increasingly common. And this crisis has far-reaching ramifications for employers and employee caregivers alike.
With caregiving duties falling disproportionately to women, the U.S. trails others in the world in the share of women in the workforce. Even caregivers who remain in the job market often must reduce their hours or take lower-paying jobs, which may reduce their salary and benefits, and impact their ability to save for retirement.
There are more immediate costs for caregivers, as well. On average, family caregivers spend 26% of their income on caregiving expenses, including medical equipment, home modifications, legal fees and healthcare deductibles. All told, a lack of access to paid family and medical leave costs employees $20.6 billion each year in lost wages.
This burden has increased in recent years with 42% of caregivers saying they spent more time and money on caregiving during the pandemic. The subsequent impact on employers includes reduced productivity, increased healthcare costs and increased employee stress. Nearly a quarter of caregiving employees self-report either absenteeism or presenteeism as a result of their responsibilities, and caregiving reduces work productivity by about $5,600 per employee each year. On top of that, employees with caregiving responsibilities cost their employers $13.4 billion more in medical expenses each year than employees without caregiving responsibilities.
How employers can help employee caregivers
When you combine these costs with a competitive job market, it’s clear that caregiving support is quickly becoming an essential resource for employers. Given the challenges at hand, here are four steps employers can take to help employee caregivers navigate their challenges.
1. Provide flexibility
One of the biggest challenges for caregivers is finding the time to get everything done within standard business hours, whether that means researching care facilities for an aging parent, taking time off for a doctor appointment, or working around disruptions to school or daycare schedules.
The growth of remote work has made it easier to work outside of the traditional 9 to 5 hours. Employers, however, might also consider offering flexible work hours that allow employees to work around the demands of their caregiving schedule. Employers might also consider increased flexibility in how employees can use PTO so employees don’t have to use all of their vacation time caring for family members.
2. Educate employees
Most employee caregivers lack formal caregiving training, particularly for elderly loved ones or those with special needs. As a result, they may feel unprepared to deal with complex challenges such as declining mental health, medication needs or medical devices.
Employers can help by providing access to virtual caregiving expertise, along with contact and pricing information for backup care centers, respite care and crisis counseling. Access to decision support tools and social work or legal counsel can also help employees navigate more difficult choices.
3. Offer personalized support
Caregiving challenges are as unique as the caregivers and families managing them. As a result, one-size-fits-all solutions end up fitting no one particularly well. Consider giving employees access to customizable tools or a concierge service that allows them to personalize caregiving resources to their needs. This support will help employees address their caregiving needs so they can perform better at work.
4. Be supportive and accepting
Whatever organizational measures you implement to support caregivers, remember that managers and supervisors are in the best position to directly impact an employee’s day-to-day work experience.
Encourage leaders at all levels of your organization to be supportive of employees during a caregiving crisis. This will make it easier for those individuals to balance work and caregiving responsibilities without worrying they’ll be penalized for missing time. Train managers to understand caregiving demands and equip them with the resources they need to create a culture that embraces caregivers.
The American population is aging, and with older individuals increasingly interested in remaining in their homes, the sandwich generation continues to grow. As a result, employee caregivers who lack support from their employers will continue to struggle and may fall out of the workforce altogether. Putting measures in place now allows employers to better support these employees and will improve attraction and retention while ensuring current employees remain productive while also supporting their loved ones.