We're Not Just Employees. We're Also Customers.


We're Not Just Employees. We're Also Customers.

Last week, Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman of Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work released a report called The Caring Company: How Employers Can Cut Costs And Boost Productivity By Helping Employees Manage Caregiving Needs.

Fuller and Raman, who interviewed 1,500 employees and 300 HR leaders and business owners, found that:

  • A third of employees surveyed who left a position reported taking care of an elder with daily living needs as a reason for leaving their job.

  • The most significant factors that contributed to workers quitting were: the unaffordable costs of paid help (53%); the inability of finding trustworthy and qualified paid help (44%); the inability to meet work responsibilities due to the increased caregiving responsibilities (40%).

Bottom line: American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees' need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older. (Can you imagine how much that figure balloons when you take into account those who care for a family member under 50 years of age?)

Caregiving costs companies. Typically, we think of the costs related to productivity. Employees may be managing their caregiving responsibilities at work rather than focused on the work of the business. Employees may quit or retire early which adds to the company's bottom line as the company spends money to recruit and train replacements.

I wonder: How much business is lost because the business can't cater to our needs during our caregiving experience?

I live 10 minutes from O'Hare Airport. I drive 40 minutes out of my way to fly out of Midway Airport because I fly Southwest. Why Southwest? The airline has an incredible flexible policy that makes it easy to change and cancel flights. That peace of mind, knowing I can get home without a hassle in case of a caregiving emergency, is worth the inconvenient drive to Midway.

In my presentation, The Future of Caregiving, at last November's Third Annual National Caregiving Conference, I shared that the company who takes care of its employees and customers in a caregiving experience will win.

Companies will soon feel the pressure from inside with employees (Read Full Homes, Empty Cubes) and from the outside with customers. The companies that put programs in place to support its employees will realize that those policies are also good for its customers.

A company that takes care of its caregiving customers will:

  • train staff to communicate with stressed-out, overwhelmed customers. We'd love to leave our caregiving stress at home. It comes with us (and even joins us on our phone calls) and it does impact how we interact with others. In an episode of Grace and Frankie, Frankie (played by Lilly Tomlin) calls customer service for help using her computer. The first customer service rep transfers Frankie to a customer service rep, Mike, who helps older adults. Frankie immediately connects with Mike, who obviously understands how to communicate and connect with her. What if we spoke with a customer service rep specialized in helping family caregivers? Netflix, by the way, was a game-changer for family caregivers, who could easily watch movies from their comfort of their homes. (I also highly recommend Grace and Frankie. It's simply awesome.)

  • ensure its business hours are friendly to tight-on-time customers. Often, the time we have is later in the evening, when our caregiving responsibilities have ended for the day but before they begin for the night. (Customer-friendly hours could be friendly to the caregiving employee, too.)

  • offer convenient, affordable products. What if our local grocery story offered prepared meals for the caregiving family, which include options for those who have dietary restrictions? What if this same grocery store had a "Family Caregiver Line" so we could get in and out quickly? A special discount for family caregivers?

  • design a store that's friendly to the shopper pushing a wheelchair and will have Caroline's Cart readily available. The store also carries products that help us during caregiving so that we can experience them before we purchase them.

  • carry clothes in our size understanding that our stress settles on our middle. Wouldn't it be awesome to shop for clothes in a store that welcomes us, celebrates us, and makes it easy for us to find clothes that fit and look good? We beat ourselves for so much during caregiving. Wouldn't it be nice to be released from beating ourselves up for struggling to finding the right size?

  • create ads that speak to us. Walmart created ads this holiday season that focused on men waiting until the last minute to complete their Christmas shopping. Walmart featured its solution in the ads -- order online and then drive to the store for pick-up. Why if ads positioned that same solution for family caregivers? When we see that a company understands our circumstances, we feel more comfortable spending money with that company. The other side of this argument: We avoid companies that try to speak to us but instead offer a rose-colored view of our situation. Many commercials from home care companies over-promise what they can do. We know that. We take note.

  • offer alternatives to our credit cards so that we can get what we need during caregiving without sacrificing our financial future. What if the banks employed employees with special training so they can effectively handle a tough conversation about bills with stressed-out family caregivers? When we can pay our bills, everyone keeps going.

  • make it easy for us to park our caree's wheelchairs when we visit restaurants and other entertainment venues.

Caregiving responsibilities impact the business. When a company understands what its employees need to stay employed, it also understands what its customers need to remain customers.

What do you think? What would you add to my list? What do you want from a business so you give that business your business? Please share your thoughts in our comments section, below.

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