Why We Need to Advocate for Employee Caregivers
Workplaces across the world are currently experiencing a transformation from in-person to remote or hybrid models. This new work ecosystem has presented a strong blurring of lines - working well past ‘regular’ work hours, constantly checking emails, bringing babies to Zoom meetings, and pet show and tell, to name a few. These blurred lines have resulted in many new and often uncomfortable adjustments, whether that be finally giving in to a slight melding of work and home life, or setting new boundaries with coworkers and family members.
Now, more than a year into the pandemic, these adjustments have caused a significant change in workplace culture, employee relations, and employee needs.
One such employee need that was exacerbated by the pandemic but is rarely talked about? Caregiver advocacy.
What is caregiving?
There are an estimated 53 million family caregivers in the U.S, and each caregiving situation is different from the next. Caregiving is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Types of care vary based on the medical, physical, social, emotional, and psychological needs of the individual requiring care.
For some, this could look like supporting a loved one, living in the same home, with daily living skills. For others, this could mean regular visits to a loved one in a medical or assisted living facility. Regardless of the specifics, all caregivers are required to consistently assess, plan, and respond to the needs of a loved one- in addition to their own needs and the needs of any other dependant family members.
How has COVID-19 impacted caregiving?
As shared in a recent article by Caregiven, COVID-19 has a vast range of impacts on caregivers and their accommodation needs. Some took over care of a loved one because they were able to be at home full time. Others took over care of a loved one due to concerns about the rapid spread of COVID-19.
In a 2020 study of 576 caregivers and their experience caregiving during the pandemic, current and new caregivers reported exacerbated caregiving challenges, increased duties, burdens, and resulting adverse health, psychosocial, and financial outcomes.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 1 in 3 employees will at some point leave their positions for caregiving responsibilities, with 70% of them leaving senior leadership roles.
According to a survey by the Transamerica Institute of more than 3,000 caregivers, 40% of caregivers feel that caregiving has strained their relationships with their employers,
According to Bank of America's Workplace Benefits Report, which is based on survey responses from 804 U.S. employers and 996 employees:
- Employee caregivers make up about 45% of the workforce
- Employee caregivers spend an average of $6,500 annually caring for children and about $3,200 caring for other family members.
- Employee caregivers miss about 12 hours of work per month because of caregiving responsibilities, including providing transportation to medical appointments, grocery shopping, managing finances, and paying bills.
Bottom line? Caregiving is a prominent and challenging responsibility that millions of employees are quietly juggling, and they should receive increased support during and after this serious public health crisis.
Why is caregiving rarely talked about in the workplace?
It is much more common to hear folks speak about childcare needs in our society, “I need to take a long lunch to take my son to the dentist.” Talking about caregiving is much less common. Consider how often you hear, “My mom has dementia and is currently experiencing an episode; I need to be with her.” The stigma around not sharing or asking for caregiving accommodations is rooted in a culture that downplays elderly care.
Yet, with 20% of employees currently acting as caregivers, it’s time for a culture shift. Caregiving benefits and accommodations should be a part of the conversation, alongside insurance, maternity/paternity leave, mental health days, retirement accounts, etc.
How can you, as an employer, advocate for employee caregivers?
Employers are often unaware of the caregiving resources already available in the packages or benefits they offer. Contact your resource provider to learn about and become well-versed in current caregiving benefits.
If you’re able, expand your benefits package, or provide an option for employees to expand their benefits package to include additional leave or caregiving tools and support.
Or, invest in the help of a company like Caregiven to translate the complexities of caregivers' lives and HR program benefits in ways that sponsor dialogue and productive changes.
If you cannot expand your current offerings, think creatively about how current non-caregiving specific benefits could be helpful or valuable to caregivers. For example, in thinking through the lens of caring for an adult, how could an employee use an EAP or mental health stipend to support their specific needs? Could tuition reimbursement cover an employee wanting to take caregiving classes?
How can employee caregivers advocate for themselves?
Although it might feel too personal, uncomfortable, or complex, remember that asking for flexibility to care for a loved one is no different than asking for flexibility to care for a child, something that is done every day.
Below is a step-by-step guide from 1 Million for Work Flexibility that can help you feel more prepared and comfortable starting the dialogue about being an employee caregiver.
Phase 1: Preparation
- Ask yourself some questions.
- Do some reconnaissance with your co-workers
- Evaluate your job
- Choose the flex that will work for you.
Phase 2: Proposal
- Check with human resources.
- Rank-order your preferred flex.
- Draft a proposal.
- Plan for a trial run.
- Rehearse with a friend.
Phase 3: Discussion
- Set up a meeting with your boss
- Take a deep breath & make your pitch.
- Share the details.
- Propose your temporary trial.
- Suggest time to think about it.
- Don’t give up.
And, remember that you are not alone. Employers who are not acknowledging and providing the additional support that 20% of their employees need, will experience a drain on productivity when employees eventually struggle to balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. Supporting employee caregivers is a decision that makes business and people sense, so don’t be afraid to ask for support to support your loved ones.