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What can an employer do to support individuals acting as family caregivers?

Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Integrated Wellbeing
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December 6, 2019

There is a lot an employer can do to help employee caregivers.

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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.

One of the most important roles of an employer is to foster a culture of support. Because every employee population is different, the culture of support may look very different for each employer. The goal is to find the right mix of support so caregivers are enabled to attend to their personal circumstances, help their personal wellbeing and feel more present at work; all of which can reduce stress and enhance employee engagement. 

According to a National Business Group on Health (NBGH) survey, 88% of large employers believe caregiving will become an increasingly important issue in the next five years. 

Just like the journeys illustrated in our previous blog, the complex and emotional stories behind a caregiver’s responsibilities and how they juggle it all are often mind boggling. Working caregivers are often hard to identify in a population as they may not wish to self-identify out of fear of stigmas or even worse losing their jobs. Providing leave policies, flexibility, and support as an integral part of an organization’s culture often can make a difference in retaining talent and keeping employees engaged.

What solutions, support, and resources are available?

Resource and solutions for caregivers range from purely self-service, such as a reference library of educational resources that anyone may access at any time with no customization, to solutions that address the caregiver’s unique journey. 

Concierge or navigation solutions provide the greatest value to a working caregiver by offering a completely personalized experience, creating a tailored care plan, researching and vetting service options, and managing all records, medications, and family communications. These solutions do all the “heavy lifting” and allow the caregiver to focus their energy on their loved one. Some solutions refer members to pre-vetted networks of providers, facilities and services while others will research and fully vet specific services as they develop a care plan for the individual.

Traditional “brick and mortar” facilities for older adults have recently started to market direct to employers. Facilities that operate senior living facilities or home care services may also offer a concierge service to help caregivers identify the best resources within their network. 

Flexible work arrangements can be one of the most highly valued offerings an employer provides. This can include flexibility of working remote, actual amount of hours worked, and variance in daily schedules. The level of flexibility can often have direct impact on developing a culture of support, especially in the situations of caregiving. Having the flexibility can eliminate some of the sources of stress including missed work, financial implications, and impossible choice of caring for loved one versus work responsibilities. Many of the competing priorities can more easily co-exist when increased flexibility is available. Flexible work arrangements are certainly easier to implement in some types of jobs and industries than others, but is a component that should be considered.

Affinity groups can help guide employees and connect them with others who have had or are having similar experiences. These connection points are not only providing peer support but can also help facilitate and promote resources and key learnings.  If you look back to Catrina’s journey with her mother in hospice, she struggled to stay connected at work, battled feelings of loneliness and grappled with how to reengage with coworkers. An affinity group would have helped her.  

Manager training can be a valuable tool to ensure employees are all receiving consistent and appropriate messages and are able to access all the tools that are in place to best support them. Most employers assume their managers are ready to tackle every circumstance that comes their way. However, managers typically do not have the depth of training or knowledge needed to understand the needs of caregivers and how to deliver the appropriate messages to those employees. 

There are also many unique benefits that can help support caregivers’ own wellbeing through their caregiving journey including 

  • EAP
  • Stress management programs
  • Lifestyle coaching
  • Financial counseling
  • Time away from work policies

The applicability and the value of these benefit offerings are all highlighted through the individual journeys illustrated in part one.

What current trends are you seeing and what might be more emerging?

There is a definite trend toward the concierge model and leveraging technology to coordinate and manage care plans allowing caregivers to feel connected to a care plan when at work and confident that their entire care network is receiving all updates.  We are still reviewing technology-only solutions such as remote biometric monitoring to determine where they fit with other available services. We believe that many of these technologies may need to be wrapped into more robust solutions to be beneficial to employers. Not many concierge solutions are leveraging such approaches today. It is possible that greater use of remote monitoring and virtual care, such as telemedicine, will play a larger role in caregiving services in the future.  

Caregivers also are considering benefit offerings during the job hunt. For example, families caring for a neurodivergent child will look for medical plans that cover Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and other therapies that may help diagnose and treat dependents. 

Employers are also evolving their leave policies to be more accommodating to caregivers at both ends of the continuum (e.g. flexible schedules, ability to work from home, reduced hours, etc.). The trend in providing paid leave beyond universal parental leave for all parents to paid leave for family members is growing. Non-traditional families have raised the bar on acceptance of what a caregiver looks like and the need to acknowledge that in the spirit of inclusion and diversity. Despite growing interest, expanding paid caregiver leave is still a new benefit that is not yet prevalent amongst employers. As employers roll out this benefit, they are implementing shorter time periods of two to three weeks as a starting point.

This is the first in Willis Towers Watson’s Moments that Matter series where we look to open the lens on events that employees experience, hoping to show a wider site into their wellbeing during these Moments that Matter.

Author

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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