Working Family Caregivers
Nearly 20% of today’s workforce is a family caregiver during “off-work” hours. Caregivers help friends and family who are ill, disabled, elderly or special-needs children. Caregivers are people of all ages, races, genders, in all jobs and socioeconomic groups. Trying to balance responsibilities of work, home and family care is stressful. It can take a significant toll on health, finances, family and work life.
Considering the needs of family caregivers is an emerging workplace issue, rooted in current societal changes. In the 1980’s, as women headed into the workforce, childcare became an HR issue. Now, as the population is aging; and as technology, medical and home care capabilities are advancing - family caregiving is becoming today’s workplace issue. As organizations in the 80’s couldn’t avoid hiring women, no company today can avoid hiring employees who also happen to be family caregivers.
Supporting caregiving employees is a benefit to employers of all sizes. Below are three strategies for supporting caregiving employees.
1. Cultivate a “caregiver-friendly” culture.
Employer acceptance of work-life issues promotes employee acceptance of them. Managers and supervisors are the gatekeepers. It’s important for leaders to make it OK to be a caregiver, to use available benefits and dependent care policies.
Create an environment in which employees feel comfortable letting others know they’re caregivers. It’s a fact they often hide because they worry, they will be viewed as less committed to work. Openly discuss caregiving. Be aware that an employer’s words and tone can stifle sharing OR encourage openness and support. Show respect for the challenges of providing childcare, eldercare and everything in between.
Be prepared for challenges; assume caregiving will affect work & staffing. Instead of expressing annoyance when problems arise, show patience and respect; use teamwork and creativity to resolve problems.
Learn about caregiving in your organization. Add caregiver-related questions to employee surveys. Use this information to develop a plan. There is no “one size fits all” approach to caregiver support. When designing your approach, focus on caregivers across the life-span; not just on childcare or eldercare. Here is a report that identifies “promising practices” that other employers recommend: Supporting Working Caregivers: https://respectcaregivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/AARP-ReAct-MASTER-web.pdf
2. Offer flexible work arrangements.
Telecommuting, flextime, FMLA leave, paid or unpaid time off, time-off banks among co-workers...whatever form it takes, flexibility is highly valued by caregiving employees. It is also good for the bottom line.
Promote the flexible arrangements that your organization already offers. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) developed guidance for employers on developing flexible work arrangements in multiple sectors including health care, manufacturing, small business, telework and the retail/service/hospitality sector. Workflex Guides: http://www.whenworkworks.org/be-effective/guides-tools/workflex-guides
3. Point caregivers to helpful resources.
It is helpful for caregivers to know that they are not alone and that resources exist online and in their communities. This offers them the chance to connect with others similarly situated and experts who have compiled helpful information and resources. This kind of support is invaluable for employees juggling multiple roles every day.
Online Caregiver-Specific Resources
• Caregiver Action Network: https://caregiveraction.org/
• Easter Seals: http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/for-caregivers/
• Family Caregiver Alliance: https://www.caregiver.org/
• Veterans Administration: https://www.caregiver.va.gov/
• AARP: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/
• National Alliance for Caregiving: https://www.caregiving.org/resources/general-caregiving/
• American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/resources/index.aspx
Refer caregiving employees to supportive agencies in your community. Local providers include:
• Meals on Wheels: food
• Lyft and Uber: transportation
• Local Area Agency on Aging: adult day care
• Visiting Nurses Association and hospitals: medical home care
• Non-medical home care providers: in-home companion and housekeeping service
• Disability support organizations like Easter Seals, NAMI, the ARC and more
Existing programs and benefits offered by employers through HR Departments should be promoted as important resources for caregivers. These include:
• Employee assistance programs
• Wellness programs
• Policies on taking leave, personal time and vacation
Here are additional strategies employers can implement in supporting caregiving employees:
• Consider organizing a caregiver affinity group
• Arrange a quiet space for caregiving-related phone calls that must be taken during work hours
• Incorporate caregivers into your organization’s monthly calendar of health and wellness observances. Recognize and honor caregiving employees during November, National Family Caregivers Month: https://caregiveraction.org/national-family-caregivers-month
• Consider offering the Assisting Caregiving Employees (ACE) Program: https://www.workingfamilycaregivers.org/ , a branded, customized web portal that provides a vetted array of resources for caregivers and supervisors.
Without adequate support, caregiving employees often face tremendous stress that can take a tremendous toll on their health. For employers, this can lead to higher healthcare costs, lower productivity and cause high performing employees to leave their jobs, significantly impacting the bottom line. Now is the time to act in supporting caregiving employees as the numbers continue to climb.
By: Jane Meier Hamilton, MSN, RN, CEO and Co-Founder of Partners on the Path, LLC, an organization helping professional and family caregivers preserve their health, well-being and capacity to care.