“American companies are facing a caregiving crisis—they just refuse to acknowledge it,” reads a new report out of Harvard Business School. Though companies may think they are saving money through offering employees lightweight benefits, they are actually taxing themselves, the new report claims.
Three-quarters of employees surveyed said they provide some sort of care duty for a family member. Nearly all said this responsibility affects their work life.
“By not offering benefits that employees actually want–and by not encouraging employees to use the benefits they do offer–companies incur millions of dollars of hidden costs due to employee turnover, loss of institutional knowledge, and temporary hiring,” the report, authored by Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman, notes. When workers are overburdened in their personal lives, they can’t give the most to their job. They show up late, they’re sick at work, they leave early, they are not operating at 100%.
The study comes at a time when companies are increasingly pushing the expense of healthcare onto workers. There’s little incentive for them not to, as I pointed out in a story last year on why employers are no longer covering healthcare costs the way they once did. President Donald Trump is making companies less accountable for covering healthcare expenses thanks to his changes to the Affordable Care Act. Already, companies account for a smaller portion of overall healthcare spending than households or the U.S. government (19.9% for companies, compared to 28% for households and 28.1% for the government, according to the most recent stats from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services).
The problem with this, of course, is that healthcare is expensive. “The rising costs of healthcare has put pressure on Americans to offset those costs by providing more informal, personal care for older family members,” the study says. If employers want to retain their workers and the intellectual capital they’ve invested in, they have to step in and help.
Fuller and Raman interviewed roughly 1,500 workers and 300 business owners or human resources professionals across a wide spectrum of occupations. Through their research, they found a misalignment between what employers believe their employees want and what they actually want. While some employers have been offering better paternity leave packages or more flexible work hours in recent years, it’s proving to not be enough. Employees can use the time off, but what they also need are services that assist them with caregiving. That can mean referrals to or subsidies for adult caregiving services or onsite childcare. The survey found 29% of employers offer referrals to caregiving services, but only 8% offer any kind of subsidy for elder care. Less than a quarter provide onsite or nearby childcare services.
Furthermore, more than half of the employees surveyed didn’t feel supported to work their jobs and attend to the caregiving at home. Harvard’s study shows that 32% of workers have left a job because of caregiving responsibilities. Surprisingly, the majority of those were highly paid men between the ages of 25-35, though the report highlights that women bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities. It’s also worth noting 50% of people between the ages of 26-35 have left jobs to care for a family member. For those between 18-25, that figure is 27%.
In the coming years, millennials will only face more pressure to drop out of the workforce as the demands of caring for their aging parents and young children grow. Employers need to provide assistance if they want to remain productive.