14% of Americans in their 40s and 50s are juggling their careers along with caring for a parent. 60% of family caregivers work full- or part-time. It’s not just older workers who are providing unpaid care for family and friends – 35% of caregivers are between 18 and 49. In fact, 16% of all adults provided some level of unpaid care for an elderly relative this year. The problem is only going to become more pervasive, as the number of older americans will more than double in the next 20 years.
One in 4 working caregivers have contemplated changing jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities. They’ve cut their hours, avoided business trips, and even turned down job promotions. In the end, 16% quit their jobs and another 13% retire early. It pays to care. Don’t lose your most valuable employees!
How can caring employers support their caregiving employees?
Nearly all employers take co-pays into consideration when choosing health insurance policies to offer their employees. Fewer consider whether or not insurance coverage provides adult day care and respite care. Some policies allow employees to add an adult family member to the policy and provide geriatric care management support. Caregivers can benefit from access to counseling and therapy to deal with stress and grief. Take a look at your current health insurance coverage options to see what’s there to support caregivers – and consider adding to it.
Additional paid time off
Five sick days is fine for a healthy worker, but those days quickly vanish for caregivers. Removing the distinction between vacation and sick days to provide a general block of paid time off (PTO) provides additional flexibility. Providing additional paid time off will allow caregivers to take care of their own health.
Treat people as individuals
It’s true that women bear more of the caregiving burden than men when you look at the statistics, but many men bear significant caregiving responsibilities. Forty percent of men serve as primary caregivers and many more provide regular caregiving support.
Giving your workers a flexible schedule is the biggest – and easiest – thing you can do to help working caregivers. Allowing your workers to adjust their hours, compress their work schedule, or work part-time temporary could very well save a staff member from being forced to quit. Allowing someone an exemption to mandatory overtime or providing them enough advance notice so they can make arrangements is also a huge help. These are steps that have been shown to improve employee satisfaction for all workers, not just family caregivers.
Being away from home can be stressful for caregivers, especially for those with a significant commute. Working from home allows caregivers to provide assistance throughout the day while still being productive employees. Allowing caregivers to work from home allows them the peace of mind of knowing they’re there to handle anything that may come up.
Many caregivers are afraid that taking unpaid time off will jeopardize their jobs. In the US, companies with 50 or more employees are bound by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but some employees fear that taking leave will stall their career or even put their future in jeopardy.
Access to experts
Access to experts through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can be a huge perk. Some workplaces offer seminars and assistance filling out paperwork for FMLA, retirement planning, long-term care, living wills, estate planning, and other legal services. Others even provide courses on coping with the stress of informal caregiving and the resources available.
Big corporations have the power to speak up in support of legislation that supports caregivers. Look into the laws that impact family medical leave, long-term care, and estate planning.
Regardless of our titles, we’re all people. Compassion can go a long way toward fostering mutual respect. Company-wide training for supervisors can help them understand and prevent potential conflicts. Work with your employees and HR to find ways that caregivers can take personal calls, attend doctors appointments, and manage stress while keeping up with work. Removing the stigma from working from home, setting a flexible schedule, and utilizing company-sponsored counseling will make for a happier, more productive workforce.
Have a policy
Ad-hoc decisions open you up to potential liability issues. Provide clear policies in your employee handbook, along with definitions of “caregiving responsibilities” and “family.” It’s clear that spouses, children, and parents are family members, but what are you comfortable giving workers time off to care for in-laws, cousins, or aunts? Decide now and put it in writing so you don’t make an arbitrary decision later.
Besides FMLA, caregiving responsibilities are mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Pay Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and others. US Hastings College of Law provides a guide to preventing discrimination against employees with family responsibilities. Litigation regarding discrimination against family caregivers has increased 400% in the past decade.
Caregivers are great workers
Caregivers are dedicated, resilient, and resourceful. Don’t be afraid to hire someone who has an employment gap because of caregiving.