From workplace responsibilities to helping children navigate Zoom school and checking in on elderly parents, employee caregivers have managed a lot of daily roles. Caregiving is one of the most meaningful acts someone can do for their loved ones. However, the duality of caregiving employees and the mental, physical, and often financial toll it takes on them cannot be understated. Organizations need to recognize this shift and do more to support this employee population.
What are the different types of caregiving?
Caregiving is caring for someone who, based on factors like age, illness, or disability status, cannot fully care for themselves. Even though there are nuances between caregiving situations, they are categorized as paid or unpaid care. So, what is the difference between the two? Here are some distinctions, according to Psychology Today:
- Unpaid—This encompasses scenarios including taking care of children, parents, and neighbors. Unpaid caregivers are at high risk for increased feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress in this role, so they must prioritize their own well-being as often as possible.
- Paid—Paid caregivers can be in-home resources that offer direct support and care for patients. Paid roles vary based on individual needs and financial resources. When feasible, bringing in paid caregivers can lessen the chances of family caregiver burnout.
- Advances in medicine and healthcare—People live longer now than in previous generations. As such, many adults are part of the sandwich generation, simultaneously raising children and taking care of older parents or relatives.
- Increased long-term care costs—The healthcare industry has been under intense pressure since the pandemic began. As a result, many are leaving the profession, causing staffing shortages and limited availability.
What impact does caregiving have on the workplace?
Recognizing the impact caregiving has on health, organizations should establish policies and programs to help support employees navigating these challenges. The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers' recent whitepaper says that family caregivers are ~18-22% of the U.S. workforce. And yet, Syndio’s 2023 workforce report found that only 12% of companies are utilizing caregiver status as an employee classification, highlighting the growing consensus that caregiving intertwines with the workplace.
Their research also found that while 70% of employee caregivers face workplace challenges while balancing caregiving, these effects are more prevalent for women—particularly women of color. At the height of the pandemic, Black and Latina women left the workplace at higher rates than any other cohort. AARP’s study also provided self-reported impacts of employee caregiving on work, including:
- 53% of caregiving employees had to leave work early or start working later to accommodate caregiving responsibilities.
- 15% of caregiving employees reduced their work hours.
- 14% of caregiving employees ultimately took a leave of absence.
Unfortunately, when caregiving reaches a certain level, some employees are left at a crossroads—should they stay or leave their jobs? A Harvard Business School survey found that 32% of employees voluntarily resigned due to caregiving duties. They listed being unable to hire affordable paid care (53%), being unable to locate quality care (44%), and increased challenges with maintaining workload and caregiving (40%) as the top reasons for employee caregivers leaving the workforce. A staggering 80% of respondents said caregiving prevented them from working at their full potential. Statistics like these further highlight that organizations must develop meaningful and forward-thinking policies to avoid losing top talent or alienating future hires.
How can organizations better support caregiving employees?
Companies like Deloitte are ahead of the curve—offering up to 16 weeks of paid caretaker leave per year. However, most companies need to catch up. A study from Homethrive found that 79% of caregivers do not have related benefits through their employers. Studies like these remind us that work still needs to be done throughout the workplace to support employee caregivers. SHRM offers some suggestions that all companies could implement to provide for their workforce:
- Communicate the importance of caregiving. Having an inclusive and people-centered culture means employees feel supported during challenging times. Some employees do not share their caregiving details for fear of retaliation or getting labeled as not committed to their work. By reducing the stigma of needing help, organizations and leaders can foster psychological safety and inclusivity for struggling employees.
- Utilize flexible work schedules. The way we work has changed drastically over the last few years. As such, companies must analyze their work policies to see if they need updating. Incorporating flex hours, part-time, or remote/hybrid schedules can be an asset for employees balancing work and caregiving.
- Expand Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Companies can look at ways to expand their EAPs to go beyond unexpected emergencies. Whether adding virtual therapy to the benefits package or offering stipends for meal prep services, paid care, etc., companies can help employees manage their ongoing caregiver needs. If adding additional financial support is not feasible, consider compiling resource lists and sharing them with employees or posting them on the company intranet so employees can easily access them when needed.
Executive and senior leadership also play a pivotal role in normalizing caregiver support within the organization. Consider sending announcements about these new/updated policies directly from the leadership team. This personal element helps the messaging gain deeper buy-in from employees and humanizes the conversation. For people leaders, taking the time to check in on employees is crucial. Expand 1:1 meetings to include questions like, “How are you doing this week?” and “Is there anything I can do to better support you?” instead of just focusing on performance.
Managers must also encourage caregiving employees to utilize their PTO when self-care days are needed. As part of this, managers can ensure that workload support is a collective responsibility of the team, so caregiving employees can unplug when on leave. This communication also ensures that the additional work gets distributed objectively to avoid burnout for any particular employee.
Looking for another way to support your employees? Invest in learning.
More likely than not, employees will need to care for a loved one at some point in their career. Whether welcoming a new child or helping an aging parent, caregivers must navigate several emotions simultaneously. For employees with a caregiving team member, connecting with each other can be challenging, and frustration may build over having to take on their workload. To help mitigate these impacts, offer employees learning on topics such as mental health and resiliency, communication, active listening, empathy, and emotional intelligence.
Is your organization looking for a learning provider that can help? Blue Ocean Brain's library has lessons on these areas (and so much more!) that can help organizations deliver just-in-time learning and build cultures of belonging. To hear more, click here to schedule a consultation with one of our learning experts.