How Employers Can Help Their Caregiving Employees

Denise

How Employers Can Help Their Caregiving Employees

Denise

Research released in November compared the caregiving responsibilities of working versus non-working family caregivers. The research, conducted by The United Hospital Fund (UHF) and AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI), found little difference between the two groups. Caregiving is an intense experience only intensified by responsibilities of a career. And, because the majority (73%) of employed family caregivers are in their prime working years, the researchers noted, replacing these workers when they leave the workforce to devote all their time to family caregiving can be costly to employers and damaging to the economy.

And, yet, how well are employers prepared to manage the impact of caregiving responsibilities on their workforce? The reality is the impact is already here—more and more employees juggle the responsibility of caring for family members. And, more and more employees aren't just be caring for one family; they take care of parents, spouses, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles—all at the same time.

Consider:

  • Gallup research estimates American businesses lose more than $25 billion annually in productivity from absenteeism among full-time working caregivers.
  • Caregiving employees are more likely to report health problems like depression, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, costing employers an estimated average additional health care cost of 8% per year, or $13.4 billion annually, according to the MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs.
  • The report also found that younger caregivers (ages 18 to 39) cost their employers 11% more for health care than non-caregivers, while male caregivers cost an additional 18%. It also found that eldercare may be closely associated with high-risk behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption. Exacerbating the potential impact to employers is the possibility that these medical conditions may also lead to disability-related absences.
  • According to The Metlife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents, adult children age 50+ who work and provide care to a parent are more likely than those who do not provide care to report that their health is fair or poor. The study reminds us that the percentage of adults providing care to a parent has tripled since 1994.
  • Women and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Caregiver’s Crisis, a study released in June 2012, found that, while three quarters of survey respondents feel capable of providing care, 49% feel overwhelmed, 36% report depression, and 65% have not had a vacation in the past year.

I've got suggestions on policies and procedures employers can implement to manage the impact of caregiving responsibilities on their workforce:

1. The caregiving experience demands constant attention; a crisis has just ended, is just starting or is hitting home. Caring for a family member with multiple chronic illnesses means all is okay one day and then in complete chaos the next. When you're managing a working family caregiver, expect a crisis. A working family caregiver knows about the constant threat of a crisis but stresses out trying to figure out how to manage it. Consider the crises of caregiving a fact (they will happen, even with the best laid plans) and then create a policy for all employees that spells out your expectations as to how employees manage a family member's health crisis and their work responsibilities. And, remember, caregiving isn't about an age. While many employees will be caring for aging relatives, others will be caring for children, siblings and spouses with chronic illnesses.

In the policy, communicate:

  • How an employee lets a manager know about a family member's health crisis. Will a text work? Email? Phone call? Which additional managers or other employees, such as those in Human Resources, must be notified if an employee needs time off to manage a family member's health crisis?
  • Which benefits an employee uses for the time away from work and which benefits are used first (vacation, personal day, sick time, PTO);
  • Clear examples in the policy so employees understand how the polity works;
  • Reminders of company resources available to help, such as an Employee Assistance Program or Work/Life benefit;
  • Under which circumstances flex time can be used by an employee.

In addition, include communication about the policy on a regular basis during company meetings, in company newsletters and on the company's Intranet.

2. Help all employees prepare for the possibility of a caregiving crisis by:

  • Providing a standard manual each employee customizes for so their back-up's and fill-in's have the information and resources ready when they need to step in because of an employee's absence;
  • Allocating the appropriate resources needed so that employees can effectively train their back-up's and fill-in's;
  • Making effective communication mandatory within a department and team so that each employee is ready to step in to cover for another employee;
  • Requiring managers talk out an agreement with employees about any responsibilities an employee will keep during a caregiving crisis;
  • Sharing how upper management has prepared in case they must manage a caregiving crisis in their families.

3. Map out the expectations of employees during their caregiving crisis, including;

  • How often an employee must check in with a manager and, if appropriate, the HR department;
  • How family caregivers continue working during the crisis. Many family caregivers will bring their laptops to hospitals and appointments so they can continue working. They want to do as much work as possible during this time. How can you ensure they have what they need to manage both work and caregiving responsibilities?;
  • How often managers will give updates to the employee about ongoing projects and responsibilities.

4. After the crisis and the employee returns to work,

  • Update the employee about any changes that occurred during their absence;
  • Trouble-shoot solutions for any new challenges which came up because of the crisis. Constant refining of the procedure will help with future crises.

5. In case of an extended crisis, make sure an employee understands:

  • Which benefits may help and how they can be used;
  • How to use Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
  • What other options may be available if an employee doesn't meet the criteria to take time off through FMLA;
  • Whether not a short-term leave or sabbatical is available.

In addition, employers can make community resources available so working family caregivers can take advantage of help. Look to local caregiving experts to deliver Lunch and Learn seminars and organize onsite resource fairs. Use benefit providers, like an Employee Assistance Program, to organize the caregiving resource fair. Work out agreements with local service providers (day care programs, social service agencies, home health agencies, senior move managers, geriatric care managers) to offer discounts to employees. Ask local geriatric care managers to be available once a month to meet with employees to discuss resources and services an employee can hire.

Finally, because caregiving will affect all of us, I hope employers will take a long-term view when an employee faces a caregiving crisis. Working with caregiving employees creates good will, loyalty and commitment. A family caregiver is an incredible asset to any business; family caregivers know how to solve the unsolvable, work effectively and efficiently within tight budgets, and tenaciously finish a project. It's a good business decision to create a caregiving-friendly workplace.

With a policy in place, the company can run as smoothly as possible regardless of how many ongoing caregiving crises occur at the same time. Because a caregiving doesn't wait for one crisis to end before another begins.

What suggestions would you add? Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

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