An estimated 53 million adults in the United States — more than one in five Americans — are caregivers. Yet employers are not focused enough on how that outside responsibility affects their workforce and their employees’ performance. But they should be.
Today’s workforce is performing a precarious juggling act: balancing health care, finances, work, children, aging loved ones and more. We saw the tremendous pressure that COVID-19 put on families trying to balance homeschooling with child and parental care when an estimated 3 million women left the workforce.
What kind of effect does providing care for an aging loved one have on working adults, and what can we do to help retain them in our workforce?
The Balancing Act
Managing life and career is a balancing act that presents many challenges. While providing support or care for aging loved ones is stressful and distracting at work, employers are not widely aware of, or focused on how those outside caregiving responsibilities impact their workforce and workforce performance.
Supporting aging loved ones is a multi-year, long-term commitment. As people age, they increasingly rely on their adult children or family members to run errands, coordinate services, research products, answer questions, lend financial and emotional support, and more.
This shift to greater dependence on adult children doesn't happen overnight and can last for many years. Even if adult children provide this kind of support, they do not all necessarily think of themselves as caregivers, but they do experience stress, grief and other difficult emotions that can interfere with work responsibilities.
Homethrive’s “2021 Employee Caregiving Survey found that 43% of respondents are distracted, worried or focused on caregiving, and not their jobs, five or more hours per week, while 20% are distracted at work more than nine hours per week. That is nearly 25% of the 40-hour work week.
Distraction at work creates enough of a challenge, but the addition of caregiving responsibilities compounds that stress and worry. Because of their caregiving responsibilities outside of work, one third of survey respondents said their supervisor had noticed a change in them either because it was “impacting their performance” or because they were “noticeably under stress.”
The survey also found that caregivers did not feel supported about their outside-of-work responsibilities. Over half of respondents indicated that their supervisors were either "not" or only "somewhat understanding" of their caregiving responsibilities.
The Big Disconnect
Even with the growing number of employee caregivers, a Harvard Business School Report noted, “many employers remain strangely unaware of the magnitude and impact of the changing demographics of care and their economic consequences. Surveys of U.S. employer and employee attitudes about caregiving reveal that there is a gross misalignment between what companies currently provide and what employees need.”
Despite the growing need/demand for employee benefits that support caregivers, most employers are either not offering those benefits or not communicating about such benefits, but change may be afoot. A survey of employers from earlier this year found that more than three quarters of employer respondents indicated that caregiving will be an increasingly important issue for their employees over the next five years.
The Homethrive survey confirms this upward trend about the need for caregiving benefits. The vast majority (84%) of respondents said they would be interested if their employer offered a benefit that provided them with resources, guidance, or support for caregiving, yet 79% of respondents did not have access to — or knowledge of — any benefits that support elderly caregiving responsibilities.
Nearly 40% of respondents said their supervisor is not aware of their caregiving responsibilities outside of work or weren't sure if their supervisor was aware. This isn't surprising when noting that 84% of respondents have not been surveyed by their employer to find out what kind of outside caregiving responsibilities they have.
Addressing the Hidden Caregiver Crisis
The U.S. is facing a hidden caregiver crisis that affects employees and companies alike. The fact that there is a significant misalignment between what employees need and what companies provide in terms of caregiving support and benefits, exemplifies that crisis. Without providing employees with adequate caregiving support, companies incur millions of dollars of hidden costs through employee mental health issues, turnover and substantial productivity costs.
Organizations need to better understand how to support the needs of caregivers in the U.S., or those economic impacts will continue to add up. Employees are distracted from their jobs because of caregiving responsibilities and the majority would welcome an employee benefit that provides resources, guidance and support.
Companies focused on supporting and retaining good employees need to acknowledge how caregiving responsibilities affect their employees and offer benefits that support them.
When HR teams are considering a portfolio of benefits that are “must haves,” choosing the right caregiver benefit should be at, or near, the top of the list. Smart companies will recognize the impact caregiving has on their employees’ well-being and their company’s bottom line and do the right thing.
About the Author
Bonni Kaplan DeWoskin is a vice president of Homethrive.