When your husband’s doctor finds a cyst in his throat that is the first sign of cancer, when it grows overnight and it’s obvious that something is significantly wrong, when you have to figure out the best course of treatment, how to get him to the treatment, what health insurance will cover, how to juggle finances and the cost of care, all while making sure the kids get to school on time and are fed and clothed and taken care of… how do you hold down a full-time job? Rebecca Throop, the head of marketing for Torchlight, is not the only one to struggle with these questions. As told in her article “How to Help With Your Employees’ Family Caregiving Responsibilities”, Throop had to go in late to work, leave early, and take time off during the day to deal with caregiving issues, just like 22 million other employed Americans who must take care of a child with special needs, a spouse, or an aging parent.
Caregivers impact employers’ budgets, but also the nation’s healthcare.
42% of US workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past five years. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, about half of the workforce expects to be providing eldercare in the coming five years. This research was provided in 2012, which means we have reached the point in our country where it is extremely likely that at least some of your employees are also operating as informal caregivers.
For businesses, this is bad news. About 68% of caregivers report making work accommodations because of caregiving, including arriving late or leaving early, taking time off, cutting back on work hours, changing jobs, or stopping work entirely (AARP). Due to these work accommodations, US businesses lose up to an estimated $33.6 billion per year in lost productivity. Along with this, the costs associated with replacing employees, absenteeism, workday distractions, and employees moving from full-time to part-time work all add up as well. On average, the annual cost to employers per full-time working caregiver is $2,110 (AARP). And caregivers don’t have it any easier, with a significant financial impact hitting those who are juggling both jobs and caregiving responsibilities. According to Casa Companion, in 2017 it was estimated that caregivers would experience a cumulative loss of more than $300,000 in earnings and benefits over the course of an earning lifetime.
However, regardless of the financial impact on caregivers and employers, these unpaid caretakers are actually integral to our nation’s healthcare system. Family members who take on the role of informal caregivers are estimated to save our nation’s healthcare system $470 billion per year–a bill that the healthcare system simply couldn’t pay (Casa Companion). With more and more informal caregivers stepping up to take care of our aging Baby Boomers, employers need to accept that their employees will fall within this category. With this in mind, we need to change how caregivers are supported in the workplace in order to decrease financial losses.
Supporting caregivers also supports the company.
“I think there’s a ton of opportunity to help companies become better employers and think about what they can do for their employees who are caregivers. Companies that are sensitive to this, aware of it, and talk about it–and provide their employees with support and resources–are going to be better places to work for everybody. Having these kinds of benefits can really give employers a way to stand out.”
-Beth Kallmyer, Vice President, Care and Support, Alzheimer’s Association (NEBGH)
When employers support their caregiving employees, these employees then have the tools to better manage their time and take care of themselves. More support means less anxiety and depression, less loneliness and social isolation, as well as physical and mental health being less likely to suffer. Offering a range of caregiving benefits sends a message to employees that employers are invested in them and their health–and when employees feel supported in this way, the company can only benefit.
Workplaces that support caregivers enhance employee productivity, lower absenteeism, reduce costs, and ultimately, positively affect profits. Along with this, employers who support their caregivers will aid their recruitment and retention efforts, which allows a company to retain a talented and knowledgeable workforce instead of spending time and money training new employees (AARP). As referenced in the Northeast Business Group on Health’s (NEBGH) guide for supporting caregivers in the workplace, a NEBGH-AARP July 2017 survey found that 75% of benefits-managers agreed or strongly agreed that being a more caregiving-friendly workplace would attract and retain talent.
Overall, it’s clear that supporting our caregiving employees is essential to the success of companies. But once you realize this, what next steps should you take?
The place to begin is developing a company-wide understanding of the challenges that informal caretakers face when they are also working. Educate your managers and employees on what caregiving entails and the impacts on those employees who are serving in this dual role. Caregiving represents a risk for depression, chronic illness, loneliness and social isolation, as well as substance abuse (NEBGH).
It is especially important to educate managers and those who are in a position to provide support, because employee caregivers won’t always seek out support for themselves. Many informal caregivers don’t identify themselves as caregivers; instead, they see themselves as a family member just helping out. Through education and a culture of awareness, the company and managers can provide the right resources to employees, even if they themselves are not quite sure what they need.
Many employers are hesitant to integrate flexibility into the workplace. As outlined in ReACT’s Employer Resource Guide, a recent paper by the Families and Work Institute and The Society for Human Resource management compared some commonly held assumptions about flexibility in the workplace with research conducted by the Families and Work Institute. The common assumptions listed below were not supported by research:
- Flexibility will be taken advantage of by workers.
- Small employers can’t afford flexibility.
- Offering flexibility to low wage workers is not efficient.
- Managers see flexibility as a personal favor to individuals.
- There are no benefits of flexibility in high turnover industries.
Not only did this research debunk these commonly-held misconceptions, but it also showed that there is a link between retention and morale with flexibility. Flexibility is good for the workforce and essential for employed caregivers (ReACT).
Some suggestions for creating a flexible work environment, as outlined in NEGBH’s guide for employers, are as follows:
- Encourage project teams to work with managers to achieve flexibility and predictability.
- Build schedules that work for everyone on the team.
- Allow family members to use employee telehealth benefits to reduce transportation hassles and allow for more time to be spent at work.
- Accommodate juggling, and discuss with caregivers how you can best work with their schedule.
- Help employees understand their benefits and how your company policies can help them.
Most of the time, creating a flexible workplace means implementing policies, benefits, and programs that will be useful to your employees. To be flexible, you must have the policies in place to do so.
According to 2014 data from the Council of Economic Advisors, a little more than half of full-time workers reported having flexible hours, with only 47% of part-time workers reporting the same. Along with this, 39% of the private sector workforce doesn’t have any paid sick days that they can use–either for themselves or to care for a sick relative (NEGHB). In a July 2017 survey conducted by NEBGH in collaboration with AARP, benefits professionals from nearly 130 companies said that if they could implement two new policies, programs, or benefits tomorrow to support caregivers, they would expand leave policies as well as wellness or support services designed to support caregiver well-being. They also said they would be interested in providing digital tools to employees (NEGHB).
The Baby Boomers are aging, and as their numbers rise, the ratio to professional family caregivers available decreases rapidly. By 2030, only four potential family caregivers will be available for every person 80 or older. By 2050, when all the Baby Boomers have reached old age, the ratio will fall to less than 3 to 1 (ReACT). If we don’t fix the problem of supporting caregivers as employees soon, eventually a large portion of the population isn’t going to be successful at work.
To best support caregivers, focus on creating a culture of awareness, a flexible work environment, and policies, benefits, and programs that focus on paid leave as well as health and wellness services. Using digital tools such as TCARE, employers can begin providing the support that employees need. Through a proven care management platform, TCARE’s evidence-based system of assessing caregivers, tailoring care plans, referring the right resources at the right time, and weekly check-ins for caregivers has shown great success with those who have used the service. 84% of caregivers reported lower levels of stress and depression after a TCARE intervention, in as little as six months.
Informal caregivers are some of the unsung heroes in our country–benefiting the health care system as they selflessly care for family members. And as their numbers grow, it’s becoming more and more of a necessity to take care of our caregivers in the workplace.
“Most of us at some point in our lives will play a caregiver role. That’s why a caregiver benefit can be so impactful to an organization — all employees can find value in it”
-Principal Specialist in Benefits Strategy, Energy/Utility Company (NEBGH)