Roselyn Carter is quoted as saying “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.’
Over the course of my own life I’ve been a caregiver to my younger brother, a friend recovering from a near-death experience, and later this year for my mother after she has surgery.
When we think about caregivers, especially since the start of the pandemic, we think of the formal caregivers – those individuals who are paid for their services, whether provided in one’s home or in a specialized environment such as a residential facility. More often, the caregivers in our everyday lives are like my friend and I, informal caregivers who are unpaid and without formal skills or training.
According to AARP, more than 40 million Americans are caregivers. Many are juggling care giving responsibilities while holding down full- or part-time jobs. They estimate that 60% of family caregivers are employed outside the home. The majority (75%) of caregivers are female.
Care giving is Stressful
It doesn’t matter if you are caring for a child or a parent, it can be overwhelming and exhausting. Care giving takes both an emotional and physical toll. As many as 80% of caregivers admitted that their care giving responsibilities impacted their work productivity.
In a recent conversation with care giving expert and coach, Leslie Meyer-Miller, I asked how important it is for an informal caregiver to let their employer know about their responsibilities. Ms. Meyer-Miller responded, “It’s huge. A lot of caregivers are scared to tell their managers, their supervisors, or HR because they fear they will lose their jobs. Often they don’t say anything. When you keep things in, your stress increases. It’s a vicious cycle.”
An individual’s care giving responsibilities may be completely unknown to their employer. According to a Harvard Business School report, the majority (52%) of employers do not track their employees’ care giving responsibilities. Many caregivers may not want their employer to know of these responsibilities for fear that it could limit their career growth. According to a Bank of America survey, 62% of employees who are caregivers believe that their employer doesn’t know about their outside responsibilities.
As COVID-19 has spread across the US, a significant number of deaths have occurred in nursing homes. These deaths have accounted for nearly 43% of the total deaths. This may lead to significant changes in where care giving takes place. Families may feel that it is no longer safe for a loved one to be in a residential care facility. This will increase the burden on families and specifically the caregiver.
Caring for the Caregiver – Employers Can Help
With so many caregivers, it’s no surprise that the number of employee caregivers is estimated to be as high as 45% of the workforce. This can represent a significant drain on productivity. Employers need to be aware of the hidden caregivers and provide specific programs and benefits to support them.
Here are a few approaches employers can take to support the well-being of employee caregivers:
Offer flexible work policies. Work from home and flexible hours will provide caregivers with the flexibility they may need to attend to doctor’s appointments, shopping, and other essential tasks.
Promote caregiver resources. There are numerous caregiver resources that can ease the burden for employees, such as Torchlight that provides caregiver support services.
Champion financial benefits for caregivers. Help employee caregivers learn about options such as Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA), a pre-tax benefit account used to pay for eligible dependent care services such as preschool, summer day camp, before or after school programs, and child or adult daycare.
Create a caregiver network. Utilize an employee resource group (ERG) or affinity group to connect caregivers with others dealing with similar issues.
Train managers. Managers may need to be educated about how to better understand the scope of their employees’ caregiving responsibilities. Ensure that managers are informed about the types of benefits and programs available to support caregivers.
Care giving is not going away. We need to support those who are giving so much and ensure they are not overlooked.