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Why employers need to better support the growing number of employees who are caregivers

Talent|Total Rewards|Integrated Wellbeing

By Regina Ihrke , Alaina Melena and Lindsay Hunter, FSA, MAAA | November 26, 2019

Do you know how much of your workforce identifies as caregivers? The answer might surprise you.

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About our ‘Caregiving: Employees’ Silent Burden’ series

This two-part series, which coincides with National Caregiver Month and National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, focuses on how more employees are also serving as caregivers for loved one and explores ways employers can help ease their burden.

Do you know how much of your workforce identifies as caregivers? The answer might surprise you.

Caregivers are those who are caring for others who need of their support: young children, disabled or ill loved ones, elderly parents, aging spouses, etc. While the role of a caregiver is typically associated with the emotional burden of managing the care of a loved one’s health while shouldering their daily wellbeing needs, the burdens of a caregiver extend beyond just the head and the heart. Employers should consider the role they play in helping alleviate some of the burden caregivers bear.

Supporting the daily needs of a loved one can be physically draining, and caregivers often put the needs of their relative or friend before their own health routines, ultimately lagging on nutrition, fitness, sleep, doctor check up’s and prescription renewals. Caring for a loved one and handling any moments of crisis can also pull an employee away from work, affecting their work performance and even their compensation, which can create even more stress for those who might already be experiencing financial difficulties. Balancing these demands and changes takes a toll on employees’ wellbeing on several fronts.

How can companies ensure that employees shouldering the role of caregiver at home are financially supported, are able to stay physically well, have emotional support and social outlets when they need them the most?

Why is caregiver support gaining so much attention and traction?

Historically employer caregiver benefits and policies have focused on supporting employees who were parents of young children. But with today’s workforce constantly growing in terms of diversity and the number of generations in the workforce, there are many more individuals who may not be raising young children but could be similarly challenged with caring for aging or ill parents or other loved ones.

These caregivers are facing enormous stress, worrying that they are providing the best care for their family members and managing the daily to-dos that are needed to facilitate the best care. Caregivers can feel lonely, overwhelmed, distracted, scared, lost and even guilty for wanting to do something for themselves occasionally. This constant stress is not only difficult to deal with on its own but tends to lead to downstream affects as caregivers ignore their own wellbeing and personal needs.

Data show caregivers need support

In fact, 88% of caregivers reported that caregiving responsibilities have a negative impact on their personal health and wellbeing, including development of chronic illness, increased financial strain, impacts on retirement plans, increased unplanned leaves, etc, according to the National Business Group on Health. This really is a silent crisis that many individuals are facing, though the data clearly indicate that caregivers can find it challenging to bring their best selves to work.

Consider these statistics* about caregivers:

  • One in five reports a decrease in productivity, including missed meetings and use of work resources and hours for non-work-related activities.
  • Nearly two out of three (64%) reported that they felt their careers were being negatively impacted and many have missed or been late to work.
  • Three in four have called in sick or took PTO to care for their loved ones.

Though the stress these individuals are facing is not new, the impact it’s having on their overall wellbeing is being recognized as a significant risk to themselves and their employers. Employers will not have a productive and engaged workforce if their employees are going unsupported.

The employer response

The good news is employers are recognizing this gap and are seeking to take supportive action. Nearly 60% of employers are focused on enhancing the support they provide to employees for life-event transitions. This can address many areas of wellbeing, of which caregiving is certainly a key opportunity.

Better support of caregivers can not only improve wellbeing and positively impact business objectives, but also serve as a differentiator in the competitive workforce environment, where all employers are looking to attract and retain top talent.

In part two of this blog series we’ll cover opportunities for employers to best support their caregiving employees.

As we seek to understand the diverse needs of the caregiver, we look at three real employee journeys from both the caregivers’ and employers’ perspectives. Consider how caregiving is impacting the individuals’ wellbeing, how engaged are they at work and what type of support is their employers are able to offer within current benefits and policies.

Meet Jillian – Jillian is 29, married and recently gave birth to her first child. She lives in a metro area and is a hospitality worker. After searching for childcare her entire maternity leave, she has found a provider and is ready to return to work. Shortly after returning to work, Jillian discovers her childcare provider is in fact mistreating her baby and now must determine what to do next.

fullscreenLearn more about Jillian.

Meet Raymond – Raymond is 42, married and has two sons. He is an administrator who lives in a large suburb. His oldest son, 13, has been struggling in school socially and having increased episodes of anxiety.

fullscreenLearn more about Raymond.

Meet Catrina – Catrina is 54, married and has three children. She works in finance at a large corporation in Minnesota. After a long battle with ovarian cancer her mother enters home hospice care in Florida. For over three months Catrina travels to Florida every two weeks for a week-long visit to share in caring for her mother along with her sister and brother and spend time with her family.

fullscreenLearn more about Catrina.

The caregivers’ journeys are very different, but all experienced stress, confusion and negative emotions left seemingly unresolved by the resources they had available to help manage their situations. While the employers in these journeys were supportive, there is certainly opportunity for them to play a larger role in helping employees feel supported and balanced.

See part 2 of the series: What can an employer do to support individuals acting as family caregivers?

*Source of all statistics in this article is National Business Group on Health.

Regina Ihrke
Senior Director, Health and Group Benefits and Integrated Wellbeing National Leader

Alaina Melena
Director, Health and Group Benefits and Emotional Wellbeing Pillar Co-leader

Lindsay Hunter, FSA, MAAA
Senior Director, Health and Group Benefits

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