By Madeline Worshek, Marketing & Communications Intern
By 2025, it’s estimated that roughly half the American workforce will be caregivers for a parent or elderly loved one. And they’ll likely be doing so with little knowledge or support. Balancing the demands of work with the physical, mental, and financial demands of being a caregiver (perhaps to children as well as parents) can be overwhelming and drive people out of the workforce.
There isn’t a simple answer for these complex situations, but here’s what employers and communicators should know about the caregiver crisis and how to help employees succeed––at work and at home.
Who does this affect and why does this matter?
The caregiving crisis affects everyone, from entry-level employees to CEOs. More than 60% of caregivers are employed at some point while providing care, and the majority cut hours, turn down promotions, or even stop working to fulfill their family obligations. And despite recent trends toward more gender-balanced caregiving, it still predominantly falls to women. When companies provide and communicate support for caregivers in the workplace, it supports women in the workplace and ensures that their diverse perspectives and contributions aren’t lost.
How can employers help?
There are many ways employers can support the changing needs of their caregiving employees, especially when it comes to preventing burnout. Ensuring your workforce knows about the options available to them and that they are supported can help engage and retain employees.
- Flexible scheduling: In-the-office face time every day, all day is so last century. The traditional, rigid 9-to-5 workday structure can create challenges for workers who need to drop off/pick up kids at daycare or school or drive a loved one to a doctor’s appointment. Allowing employees to adjust their “work windows” to compensate for unique needs decreases absenteeism, enabling increased productivity with decreased stress.
- Remote work: While remote work became popular out of pandemic-induced necessity, the last few years have opened many people’s eyes to its array of benefits. Whether this means freeing up an extra hour for meetings or focused work during what would’ve been commuting time or the flexibility to step away to provide care to a loved one, remote work can help employees find the time to accomplish all their responsibilities.
- Time off: Sometimes what caregivers need most is a few days away from the office. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers employees job-protected family leave for up to 12 weeks a year (with some limitations). FMLA leave is unpaid, however, and only a handful of states currently offer guaranteed paid family leave leaving many families in a tough spot. This is where companies can step in. As the number of caregivers at work grows, employees will increasingly seek out employers who offer them paid time off for taking care of their elderly loved ones (as for maternity, paternity, and adoption).
- Resources for caregivers: One major risk of stepping into the caregiver role is burnout. Providing employees with access to knowledgeable elder-care professionals can help provide direction and support for employees making difficult choices for their loved ones. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offer counseling sessions and can provide referrals and other resources. Some companies even offer access to and discounts on services including legal counsel, assisted living, and daytime care for seniors. These companies also hold regular town hall meetings to ensure that caregivers know these resources are supported and how they can use them.
How to encourage employee participation
While most large companies already incorporate elder-care benefits into their offerings, many employees aren’t aware of them. Here are a few tools for communicating these options to employees and convincing them to use what you’re offering:
- Testimonials: Show employees just how well the support works. This can be as simple as creating a short blog post from a two-minute interview with an employee about what benefit they use, why, and the impact that benefit has had. Peer support is key to getting the word out and helping employees feel comfortable doing what is needed to prevent burnout.
- Prepare managers: Day-to-day leaders should be compassionate about employees’ concerns and be able to answer questions about elder-care benefits or point them to the right resources. It’s important to be sensitive to caregiving stigma, so it’s essential to train managers how to recognize signs of burnout and offer help. Invest in training managers and provide resources, such as informational toolkits, to help them communicate about the benefits available.
- Lead by example: If leaders want employees to feel comfortable taking care of themselves, leaders should be the first to make some adjustments. Encouraging C-suite executives to share their own stories helps to destigmatize caregiving and signal to employees that it’s okay to talk about the challenges they’re facing. Whether this means leaders pushing back their own daily start times or taking some time off to care for a loved one, demonstrating that well-being comes first will alleviate employees’ anxieties.
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for supporting caregiving employees––think of these solutions as ‘pinches’ of support that you can adjust until you get it just right. Combining these different strategies will help employees to feel empowered about their decisions about when, where, and how they can work best while also supporting their families.
Do you need help communicating new, expanded, or underutilized employee benefits and resources? Contact us today.