Your company may be experiencing the impact of a crisis no one is talking about–one that could be costing you productivity and, possibly, your most valuable team members.
Roughly 41.3 million people in the U.S. age 15 and over provide unpaid eldercare to a family member age 65 or older, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2050, the number of people in who have reached or passed the midpoint of their 60s is projected to double, according to U.S. Census data. One in four of these caregivers is a millennial, according to a 2018 AARP report, and 56% are women.
These caretakers–especially those in the “sandwich generation,” helping aging parents or family members while raising children under age 18–are shouldering enormous emotional and financial burdens, as well as increased demands on their time and energy.
And before you say “not my company”–not so fast. A 2019 report by Harvard Business School’s Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman says “many employers remain strangely unaware of the magnitude and impact of the changing demographics of care and their economic consequences.” For example, among the report’s findings:
- Fifty-two percent of employers don’t track data on their employees’ caregiving responsibilities.
- Twenty-four percent of employers said that caregiving influenced workers’ performance, but more than 80% of employees with caregiving responsibilities admitted that caregiving affected their productivity.
- Employees with higher positions and salaries were more likely to leave because of caregiving responsibilities than lower-paid workers.
- A third of employees who left a position did so to take care of an elder with daily living needs.
More than one-quarter of caregivers (28%) thought that caregiving hurt their careers. For employers, the costs include turnover, decreased productivity, higher absenteeism and healthcare costs, lost institutional knowledge, and more. Fortunately, supporting caregivers appropriately may reduce these costs and help retain key employees.
Preventing caregiver turnover
The same day Jisella Dolan received a job offer from Home Instead, Inc., an in-home eldercare provider, she also learned that her father was seriously ill and had six to 18 months to live. Her parents lived eight hours away, and she suspected that her caregiving responsibilities would likely put her in violation of the company’s fixed leave policy. When she expressed her concerns, the CEO agreed to work with her, allowing her to work remotely and adjust her hours as needed to help her parents.
“I tell people I hadn’t worked a minute at Home Instead, and I would take a bullet for that company [after] that moment,” she says. She has worked for the company for 12 years. (Since her experience onboarding at Home Instead, the company has also made its paid-time-off policy more flexible. No longer do employees have a set number of days they can take off. Instead, they work with their managers to fulfill their duties–and their caregiving roles.)
Flexibility is essential for caregivers, says Rani Snyder, caregiver specialist at The John A. Hartford Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of older adults. And some situations are more demanding than others. For example, nearly 70% of Alzheimer’s and dementia patient caregivers need to modify their work schedules. Often, workers take a leave of absence or switch to a less-demanding job to fulfill caregiving duties.
“At the crux of it, [Alzheimer’s and dementia] typically lasts longer, and it’s much more intense over time,” says Ruth Drew, director, Information and Support Services at the Alzheimer’s Association. The association runs a 24/7 help line for people living with the disease, as well as for caregivers to get information, including addressing legal, financial, and care decisions, as well as treatment options for managing symptoms.
Taking care of caregivers
Dolan says there is often a stigma associated with being a caregiver to another adult. While accommodations are often made and accepted for parents and guardians, coworkers and manager are often not as sympathetic when someone needs to take time off to help an elderly relative. During a pregnancy or adoption process, coworkers and managers are often supportive–perhaps even giving a baby shower in the office. “It feels like community. When you’re going through navigating the ins and outs of supporting a dying parent, especially someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s a totally different kind of emotional experience. It can feel very isolating,” she says.
Dolan is trying to raise awareness of these issues and fight the stigma through the company’s “Daughters in the Workplace” initiative, which includes articles, videos, information, and resources that can help caregivers navigate the challenges they’re facing.
Helping employees understand their time-off options is also important, says Tami Simon, global corporate consulting leader at The Segal Group, a benefits and human resources consulting firm. To prevent unnecessary employee losses, make employees aware of their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees of companies with 50 or more employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, as well as any state or local leave laws or company policies that may pertain to them. If your company offers paid leave, be sure the criteria and process are clearly explained. Encourage your HR team to provide information and support to employees trying to access their leave options.
Benefits that can help
When a staff member is providing eldercare, remind them of any relevant employee assistance program (EAP) benefits. Whether employees need legal assistance to draft a power of attorney, connections to caregiver support groups, or other resources in the community, they may be able to access them through the company’s EAP, says Simon. If your company doesn’t have an EAP, begin compiling a list of various caregiver resources. These may include suggestions for local support groups, meal delivery services, backup and respite care, and other options for services or needs caregivers may have.
As more companies give employees access to financial advisers for retirement planning and paying off student loans, adding eldercare issues into the discussion could also be useful for caregivers. Seven out of 10 of people age over age 65 will need long-term care during the course of their lifetime, according to Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care survey. And with many unprepared for retirement costs, let alone the increased cost of housing and healthcare for older adults who need assistance with their daily routines, more financial responsibility will fall on the shoulders of family members and other unpaid caregivers.
By shifting attitudes about care and providing support to caregivers, employers can help valued workers and managers find ways to keep their jobs while supporting their loved ones.