Nothing is more personal or more important than ensuring the health, wellbeing, and happiness of those we care most about. For more than 50 million adults in the U.S. this takes the form of providing unpaid caregiving support for family members and loved ones coping with illness, disabilities, or other special needs. Caregiving can be rewarding and provide caregivers with a sense of purpose or meaning. Yet caregiving can also have a significant physical, mental, emotional, and financial impact on the caregiver—and lead to stress, health issues, and burnout.
The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report a 16% increase in the number of adult caregivers in the U.S. from 2015 to 2020, primarily driven by an increase in caregiving needs for people ages 50 and older. More than 1 in 5 Americans (21.3%) are caregivers. COVID-19 has accelerated the crisis, forcing many in the sandwich generation to act as caregivers for their children and their parents. As the pandemic continues and the population ages, demands on family caregivers will only increase, taking an even greater toll on caregivers and the workforce. Employers have a tremendous opportunity to support their workforce and help solve the caregiving crisis.
The impact of family caregiving on the workplace
Caregiving takes time and effort. Caregivers can spend hours each week navigating forms and paperwork, transporting loved ones to appointments, coordinating care services, and managing myriad other responsibilities. They also frequently have to navigate complicated family dynamics, legal, and financial challenges. For 61% of caregivers, they are doing all of this while working – and it is having a devastating impact on them and on their companies.
Caregiving is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for caregivers trying to balance caregiving with work. For employers, this means higher absenteeism and healthcare costs and lower productivity levels and retention. For example, during the pandemic, more than 3 million people left their jobs because of caregiving responsibilities. Millions more had to reduce or change their hours at work to care for children, aging parents, other family members, and loved ones. The impact of these changes can be far-reaching. According to the Fidelity Investments 2021 American Caregivers Study, 79% of family caregivers said caregiving responsibilities led to financial, social, mental, or professional setbacks.
Strategies for supporting employee caregivers
Companies that recognize the caregiving crisis and act to create a workplace that helps address it will have a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring and retaining experienced, qualified, high-performing workers. Here are a few strategies employers can use to better support the needs of employees who are caregivers:
- Encourage open and honest dialogue. Workers across industries are under constant pressure to be productive and do more. Family caregivers are often afraid to speak up in the workplace about their personal struggles or ask for help out of fear of discrimination, being treated differently, or disappointing their coworkers. Executive leaders should create an environment that fosters open and honest communication about caregiving challenges and solutions. Encourage managers to have conversations with their teams about personal wellbeing and make sure employees feel comfortable discussing challenges they face inside and outside the office.
- Set realistic expectations. This is not the time to seek perfection. Business leaders must accept that we are living in extraordinary circumstances and acknowledge that employees may not be able to live up to their usual standards. Set realistic expectations for employees at which they can consistently succeed rather than setting unrealistic goals at which they will fail.
- Rethink benefits to provide meaningful solutions. Flexible work hours, remote work options, and paid family leave are all important benefits. However, they only address pieces of the caregiving puzzle. Sometimes more advanced support is needed. Consider offering personalized caregiving solutions that provide holistic support, such as access to expert clinical advice and dedicated care experts.
These strategies are much more than a change in a company’s benefits package. If implemented effectively, they can be a transformation of the way business is done that acknowledges a business is its employees.
The potential benefit for employers
Flex time and remote work are not enough to address this multifaceted problem. Employers need to create a new kind of workplace with exceptionally personalized caregiving support, where, and when employees need it. By creating a culture centered around employees and providing them with comprehensive solutions to help solve the caregiving challenges they face at home, employers can retain and recruit top talent, increase productivity, lower absenteeism, and improve their employees’ wellbeing in the process.