With more than 60 percent of America’s 40 million family caregivers balancing their caregiving responsibilities with paid employment, there is a pressing need for employers to do more to support employees who are also caring for loved ones. In fact, according to a survey AARP conducted with the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH), an overwhelming majority of the company benefit managers – 82% – say that family caregiving will become an increasingly important issue for their companies over the next five years. That is why AARP is partnering with NEGBH to help employers assess their company culture and develop strategies and policies to create a caregiver-friendly workplace.
In addition to time spent at the office or job site, family caregivers, on average, spend a little over 24 hours per week on a whole host of tasks to help their parents, spouses, children with disabilities and other loved ones live independently. They manage medications, prepare and serve meals, help their loved ones to bathe and dress, arrange transportation (or do the driving themselves), handle financial and legal matters and much, much more. About 60 percent of family caregivers assist with medical or nursing tasks like injections and tube feedings.
Some have to readjust their work schedules, often working fewer hours than they otherwise would, using paid time off for caregiving duties and taking unpaid time off when needed. Others work more hours or take an additional job to cover the bills. Many put their own health at risk for the sake of their loved one, and many say they feel isolated at work, unable to be honest about the responsibilities they carry at home for fear of judgement or reprisal.
There are a lot of things employers can do to support employees who are also family caregivers. It could be something as simple – and low cost – as forming an employee support group or distributing a list of caregiver resources. Some companies are leveraging employee assistance programs and new digital tools to help employees manage their care tasks. Other practices to consider are re-thinking sick leave and flex-time policies to take caregiving responsibilities into account or offering back-up care and respite care services as employee benefits.
At AARP, we live our values with paid caregiving leave, flex-time and back-up care options and an organizational culture that recognizes and supports our family caregiving colleagues. (I’ve frankly never worked at an organization that walked the walk on this issue the way AARP does.) A recent report by AARP and ReAct, a coalition dedicated to addressing challenges faced by employee caregivers, highlights a number of promising practices at other organizations. For example, Allianz Life offers quarterly educational sessions and a 24/7 support line for employees caring for aging relatives and other loved ones. Bank of America employees can tap emergency back-up care at a reduced rate and have access to legal and senior care consultants. And, staff at CBS can get help navigating the health care system through the company’s Health Advocate program.
To help other organizations support employee caregivers, we’ve developed an employer toolkit in collaboration with NEBGH. Resources include a self-assessment tool and a comprehensive guide complete with checklists and handouts to help employers identify and implement ways to support the caregivers in their workforce. One quick and easy step in the right direction is a list of caregiving resources ready that can be copied and distributed. The toolkit is available for free at www.employercaregivingtoolkit.org.
Whatever the changes, our research shows that having caregiver-friendly workplace policies is good for business. 87% of respondents in our caregiving and workplace survey say that supporting family caregivers in the workforce can increase productivity, and 75% say that having a caregiving-friendly workplace would help attract and retain talent. In addition, policies that help family caregivers take care of themselves – physically and mentally – can reduce employers’ healthcare costs in the long run.
As our country ages with more older Americans staying in their homes, the nation’s 40 million family caregivers are the bedrock of our long-term care system. We need to make sure that that they have the resources and support they need to care for their loved ones – especially when they are also working hard to support themselves and their families.