For anyone who has had to look after a sick or elderly relative, family member, or friend, you know that it can be draining and many employers are not flexible. As Gallup reports, ‘More than one in six Americans who work a full- or part-time job also report assisting with care for an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend’ and, generally, these people are in lower-income brackets. Further, ‘More than 1 in 10 American workers in all major demographic and socioeconomic groups report that they are a caregiver. Caregiving is most prevalent among those who are middle-aged, low-income, black, Hispanic, or less educated.’ So, why should this issue matter to you? Let’s find out! Here’s why companies should invest in benefits for employees in ‘caregiving’ functions.
As an employer, you may, without even knowing it, employ a full-time or part-time employee who also has to care for another person. For those employees who, in addition to their personal lives, family lives, home lives, work responsibilities, and so forth, have to care for another person, here are the benefits you, as an employer, can offer to these employees either across the board for all of your staff or on a case by case basis: find out who is caregiving and offer benefits such as education, paid family leave, flexible working, and other suggestions.
Find out who is caregiving in your organization
In order to help those who are caregiving, you need to understand who works for you provides care functions. For example, someone who is supporting a terminally ill spouse or child will need different options to someone caring for an elderly parent or someone with dementia. Other caregivers may be providing temporary support for someone recovering from surgery. Some caregivers may work in conjunction with other family members to offer support and others are their only port of call. The point is that caregivers provide all sorts of functions in different ways which is why a more tailored approach is necessary when supporting these workers.
The Harvard Business Review published a piece called ‘No One Should Have to Choose Between Caregiving and Work.’ The writer notes that she had multiple stressors in life as well as taking care of a parent with dementia which were taking their physical toll: ‘Along with 65.7 million Americans, [she] was part of a large contingent of people who provide 80% of long-term care in this country.’ Of only, 158 million workers, that is a huge chunk of the working population. But many caregivers often find their jobs are too inflexible to allow them to work, which is an economic and social problem.
The HBR article also notes, ‘On average, caregivers miss 6.6 work days a year. The lost productivity adds up to a big cost to companies — to the tune of $17 to $33 billion annually’ and with many unsupportive companies, ‘…exiting the workplace is often an overwhelmed caregiver’s last resort.’ But what if flexibility and benefits could combat some of those costs? Instead of lost working days, work with the employee to work around his or her preferred hours, as just one example.
Let’s explore the options.
First of all, your HR department or PEO provider could explain to your caregiver employee the options they have available to them. They could also point them to additional resources that support caregivers. There may be programs in the community that help provide additional care to relieve caregivers of their burden.
Here are some excellent resources for your caregivers.
Next, you may have an EAP that can help, daycare facilities, or help or geriatric care manager networks. You can also provide directories on home health aides. Often, there is more community support available than these people realize and a sensible HR department or company will be aware of resources to ensure you keep your valuable employees happy and as stress-free as possible.
Paid caregiver leave
For these employees, you may be able to offer flexible family leave. Often, companies have separate categories for leave such as vacation days, sick days, and personal days, but for caregivers, it may help to group the leave into one ‘pot’ and the caregiver can take a few hours here and there as they need to care for their friend, relative, or family member. If you think your HR department would find managing multiple benefits confusing, consider hiring a PEO to help manage multiple employee benefits options.
To read more about why leave is beneficial to caregivers, see our piece ‘Paid Caregiver Leave: A Worthwhile Benefit.’ The piece notes that employee morale and retention increases when companies are flexible with their leave policies.
Although understandably, some employees cannot offer flexible working (such as restaurant work, customer service, and retail), other businesses where the employee’s job is a ‘desk job,’ can often accommodate flexible hours.
Flexible hours is probably one of the best benefits an employer can offer. That way, employees can use their vacation time to rest and recharge but can ensure that they also meet their company’s needs. Employees who work flexibly, for example, may want to start later in the day after their caregiving duties, work a few hours, return for more caregiving, work for a few more hours, do some more caregiving, and finalize work in the evenings. Often, employers who have flexible time are grateful for this benefit and are productive during the hours they choose to work.
You may also allow employees to work remotely where possible so that it can better accommodate a schedule where the caregiver has to drive to different locations.
An article on Forbes, ‘Flexible Working: The Way Of The Future‘notes that employees are actually more productive when they work flexibly and ‘80% of women and 52% of men want flexibility in their next role.’ So, being more flexible and having, perhaps, more core working hours can benefit every employee and not just caregivers.
There are lots of ways that flexible working can benefit caregivers and, if you’re unsure how to approach flexible working or effectively tack time, a PEO can help you manage and keep track of an employee’s flexible schedule.
One simple solution to assist caregivers in the best way is, once you’ve identified the employees who need help, ask them what would help them. They may have suggestions or ways of working that will support their individual needs and you can work with your HR department or PEO to help facilitate that relationship.
You may also help provide support in the following ways.
1. Provide advisory services to connect employees with healthcare providers for their parents, relatives, children, and themselves (as applicable).
2. Facilitate access to nurse managers, case managers, and geriatric care managers that can help employees who provide care to an ill or disabled family member, friend, or relative.
3. Find community advocates who help employees deal with complex insurance claims for the person they care for or help plan long-term care or manage the legal and financial complexities for when a parent or spouse dies.
4. Create and encourage internal caregiver resources and groups that bring employees together who are dealing with similar issues to create a support network; these individuals can share ideas and experiences, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a week.
The most important way of supporting caregivers is showing and acknowledging the difficulties these employees manage in their day-to-day lives. Listen to their needs and the way they need support. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach as different caregivers are looking after different types of people – from terminally ill spouses and children to disabled, mentally unwell, or dying parents to friends and beyond.
When you create a supportive workplace for those who work for you, your employee feels valued and cared for; they will reward you with loyalty, dedication, and hard work.
How Navigate PEO can help
Your company can be a pioneer of a truly supportive and inclusive workplace that demonstrates you care about this oft-ignored section of our working population. You also want to create a culture that allows people to feel they can make use of these benefits, eliminating the stigma around accepting and using benefits. But you may find managing and implementing new benefits challenging.
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Tom DiSilva has been providing professional human resource services for over 30 years. As the CEO of Navigate PEO, he actively partners with organizations of all sizes in the Greater New England area and across the country to help their businesses grow. He has expertise in HR and Labor Management, offering guidance and support for key areas of business such as negotiations, operations management, employee coaching, and employee benefits design.