That startling statistic comes from the report by the TIME’S UP Foundation: Women’s Work: Key Policies and Paradigms for An Inclusive Post-Pandemic Economy.
The drain on businesses from employees with caregiving responsibilities became clear through the pandemic. One of the driving forces behind why women left the work force is lack of caregiving policies. It continues to be a problem as we see the struggle to find and hire employees right now.
A robust economy needs women working. Too many women leave the workforce to care for someone. In 2019, the Workplace Benefits Report published by Bank of America identified 45% of employees having caregiver responsibilities. A 2019 publication date tells me this number is higher after the pandemic. Fortunately for the business world, several of the work practices they were forced to put in place will help them retain employees who are caregivers. That is, if businesses are willing and able to change.
Connecting the dots:
The traditional definition of caregiver (i.e. new parents) is being challenged as we see a range of caregiving responsibilities which follow life stages, from a sick child or spouse, to aging parents. A range of benefits is needed to address caregivers who miss hours at work and need time to make phone calls during business hours. The impact that has on productivity is easy to see. The bigger issue that is easy to miss is the fallout from the emotional and physical stress caregiving has on employees. The results are employees turn down promotions, reduce work hours or leave. The impact of these decisions will continue to grow as the “sandwich” generation grows.
In addition, the rate of retirement for baby boomers shot up during the pandemic. Companies are realizing that highly skilled employees are going to continue to retire and it may be difficult to find people to replace them.
What a business needs to know:
A Harvard Business School project on “Managing the Future” published the research paper: “The Caring Company.” The research focused on how employers can help employees manage their caregiving responsibilities while reducing costs and increasing productivity. Here is some of what they learned:
- Employers do not measure and thus do not realize the extent to which employees are burdened by care.
- In the absence of a supportive “care culture,” employees worry that admitting to caregiving responsibilities penalizes their career growth.
- Employers do not realize the extent to which caregiving affects employee performance.
- Employers grossly underestimate the direct and indirect costs of caregiving.
- Employers do not provide the benefits that are valued by employees.
Beyond the needs of caregivers, a recent Morning Consult poll showed that almost 40% of workers, and 49% of those who are millennial and Gen Z, said they’d consider quitting if their employer didn’t let them work remotely at least part of the time.
What managers need to know:
Employee assistance programs may offer referral services to childcare and eldercare services, along with a variety of other services through a voluntary benefits program. For example, legal assistance to help with estate planning, living wills, medical directives and obtaining power of attorney, all key documents for caregivers.
Sadly, companies with employee assistance programs that can help find caregiving resources find that employees and management are unaware of them. The first step is to educate managers on how many employees are caregivers and what those responsibilities entail. Managers should know about employee assistance programs and how caregivers can access these resources. The most important thing a manager can do is reassure an employee that careers won’t be derailed if they discuss caregiving responsibilities and take advantage of resources.
There is a lot of work to be done. A 2017 survey of more than 3,000 caregivers conducted by Transamerica Institute found that 40 percent feel that caregiving has strained their relationship with their employers and 28 percent have had their employer take an adverse action against them, including giving them less-attractive assignments, writing them up or admonishing them and passing them over for a promotion.
What caregiver employees need to know:
If your company offers a Dependent Care Flexible Account, this pretax benefit can be used to pay for dependent care services for childcare and eldercare. Since caregivers’ largest expense is daycare for children and elderly and disabled family members, this can be a huge help.
Letting people at work know you are a caregiver is scary. But if you are taking off for medical appointments and work only knows you have called out again, they are not given the opportunity to shift the workload around so that deadlines are not missed. It allows everyone to strategize and fill in when personal obligations take precedence.
Once employees openly share their caregiving responsibilities, it starts to normalize the experience for the company and opens the doors to onsite support groups and educational lunch and learns.
The single most important thing family caregivers need from the work environment is flexibility.
Once the number of caregiver employees is exposed and support is in place, you can negotiate for these flexible options:
- Telecommuting or remote working options
- Allowing a 40-hour, 4-day work week
- A part-time schedule
If employees leave for caregiving responsibilities or have a hole in their work life due to caregiving, a company can create a “Returnship” program.
“Returnships” have grown in popularity. Returnship is a way to integrate new parents or other employee caregivers back into their day-to-day work life after spending a significant amount of time away. These programs last from a few weeks to a few months and provide extra mentorship to help these employees reacquaint themselves with their work environments. These programs are flourishing due to their success rates, the tight labor market and companies’ attempts to diversify their workforces.
Yearly Care Census
Companies can conduct a care census that determines how many employees are caregivers and what support systems would help.
Instead of waiting until an employee leaves the company, regular stay interviews would proactively look to understand problems or concerns employees have and then work to put support systems and solutions in place before they leave.
Remote Work and Hybrid Time
The pandemic helped dispel some assumptions and stereotypes of working remotely. Employees working remotely are not less committed to their jobs, do continue to produce and outside responsibilities like caregiving, don’t interfere with their ability to get work done. As a caregiver who has worked remotely for years, I know this to be 100% accurate. I may start work later or end work earlier and schedule meetings around appointments for mom.
In fact, remote workers have proven beneficial to the bottom line.
“Based on conservative assumptions, a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 annually per part-time remote employee – yes, you read that correctly – thanks in large part to increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better overall disaster preparedness.”
No one-size-fits all
Many of these suggestions work well in larger companies and not so well in mid-size to small ones. This is why state and national legislation is still so important. It is the only way caregivers who work for a smaller company can find some relief. At the very least, every organization, no matter the size, can commit to changing to a more responsive workplace culture for caregivers. It takes time but requires no money to hold stay interviews and/or conduct a care census.
Feeling heard and being part of the solution are what caregivers want and need.
The Northeast Business Group on Health has developed two helpful resource guides for employers: Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers, produced in collaboration with AARP, and Digital Tools and Solutions for Caregivers: An Employer’s Guide.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.” This book explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems. Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.