Caregiving Stress Will Stretch the Workplace

Denise
About three years ago I sat in the office of a benefits manager of a large Chicago employer. A colleague and I met him to talk about caregiving. As we discussed caregiving in the workplace, he scoffed at my insights. "We don't have employees in a caregiving situation here," he said.

"What's your employee demographic?" I asked.

"Women in their mid to late 40s," he answered.

Well, of course he had employees in a caregiving situation since his employee demographic matched with the typical profile of a family caregiver. But he didn't hear them talk about their experiences so he assumed those experiences didn't exist.

Since 1999, I've been attending employer benefit fairs on behalf of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and Work/Life benefit companies. This year I knew caregiving had hit the mainstream when I attended this season's first benefits fair last month. A large law firm had invited a home care agency to be a vendor at the fair -- the very first time I've ever seen that. During the fair, employee after employee told me about their previous or current caregiving experiences.

And, that's been my experience at every health fair so far this year. On Tuesday of this week, a law firm employee fresh out of college asked me about help for her mom who cares for her grandmother. As we spoke, I said to her, "You probably worry about your mom more than your grandmother." Relief from being understood splashed across her face. "I do," she said.

On Wednesday, I presented to a group of employees at a large government agency. Women in their late 40s and 50s attended the session. But so did a man in his 50s who cares for his brother and his mother. After the presentation, a 37-year-old son asked me questions on how to best help his mom, who receives his care and causes his worries.

Yesterday, I attended Concepts in Care Educational Conference, an event sponsored by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. I connected with an attendee who explained that the chairman of a local company sent her to the event to gather information he could use as he cares for his wife.

Caregiving shows up to workplaces and it shows up across all ages, genders and ethnicities. And, while we do our very best to keep caregiving out of our cubes, it's ever present in our minds and hearts. Juts because we don't talk about it, doesn't mean we don't live it. The employers who understand this will be the ones who retain the best employees and will continue to operate their businesses. The ones who don't will deal with absenteeism, lost productivity and high turn-over.

We know that a caregiving experience can take over two lives. In our Family Caregiver Stress Survey, family caregivers rate their stress level at 4.16 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the most stressed. The respondents overwhelmingly say  miss their lives, which is a source of their stress.

A caregiving experience, with its sudden emergencies and its constant needs, also stresses a family system. It will stress a workplace in the same way because it consumes the emotions and demands availability on a moment's notice.

Caregiving comes to work. It's time to manage it so that it doesn't take over the business.

And, that manager who said caregiving wasn't an experience in his workforce? When I followed up with him a few months after our meeting, I learned he was no longer with the company.

Resources

Join our mailing list

Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter that includes caregiving tips, news, support and more.