According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. On average, they spend 24.4 hours a week tending to their loved one. And 73% of those people have other jobs, outside the home.
How does working an extra 20 hours week, in an environment that can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting, affect work performance? 66% of caregivers report that they’ve had to make some sort of adjustment to their professional life, from arriving late to work to quitting entirely.
And caregiving doesn’t just take a toll on the employee – it also affects corporate America. As the number of older adults continues to grow, the number of employees in a caregiving role will also expand. Those workers will be less productive than their non-caregiving counterparts for a variety of reasons, such as stress and unplanned absences from work.
As we come up on November, National Family Caregivers Month, it makes sense for organizations to consider strategies to help support employees who provide caregiving and may need assistance.
A Growing Aging Population Needs Care
The American population is aging quickly and living longer. In 2011, the first of over 78 million baby boomers began turning 65. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 107 million Americans — 31% of the population — will be over 55 in 2030 and that 70 million Americans — 20% of the population — will be 65 and over that same year. By 2060, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will reach nearly 100 million.
Nearly 70% of these older Americans will require assistance at some point in their lives. Often, those responsibilities will fall on a family member. And, most of the time, that family member is a woman, who already has a job and is caring for at least one other person (like a child who lives at home).
Challenges for Employees
Finding work/life balance can be difficult under the best of circumstances. For the millions of Americans who currently care for an older, ill, or disabled loved one, it can be nearly impossible.
Research shows that working caregivers report higher levels of stress than their non-caregiving colleagues. In particular, one survey from the United Health Foundation and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that 88% of caregivers report increased stress or anxiety as a result of caregiving, and 77% state sleep deprivation as an issue.
Further, research shows that this near-constant stress can have grave consequences on a person’s health. According to Caregiver Action, the “stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.”
The Impact on the Workplace
The stress and health difficulties experienced by caregivers can have widespread ramifications in the workplace. Employees who care for their aging parents or other loved ones are more likely to be less productive, take more time off, and arrive to work late on a regular basis. This lower productivity often equates to lower revenue – and a larger workload for non-caregiving employees.
Providing such care while working a full-time job is both physically and mentally taxing for most employees, and studies show that burnout from caregiving responsibilities cost companies nearly $13.4B each year in health care expenses alone. When other factors, such as turnover and absenteeism, are taken into account, caregiving can cost organizations up to $33.6 billion per year.
Workplace Accommodations for Family Caregivers
According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, “Organizations have an opportunity to support employees who provide caregiving for loved ones by offering access to programs and resources that can help make their lives easier.”
A few of their suggestions include:
- Transition to a Paid Time off (PTO) Program – PTO groups all time off (vacation, sick days, paid holidays) into one program, so employees have more flexibility with how and when they can take days off.
- Flexible Scheduling and Telecommuting – Flexible scheduling means that employees can adjust their hours as needed, as long as they meet their required minimum. For example, they may choose to work four 10-hour days per week, rather than five 8-hour days. Or they may work through lunch and leave an hour early at the end of the day.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – EAPs offer services such as personal and family counseling, crisis intervention, and bereavement and other assistance to help employees cope with personal stressors and create better work/life balance.
Implement Policies to Protect Caregivers – It’s critical that organizations reinforce and frequently review recommendations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to ensure compliance with nondiscrimination guidelines.
A happy employee is a productive employee! While many employers worry that allowing perks like extra time off or flexible hours may encourage laziness, research shows that just the opposite is true. Providing support to your employees and helping to improve their work/life balance can lead to increased productivity, higher-performing employees, and a better bottom line.
As the aging population continues to grow, now is the time to consider what types of support you can offer employees who are in a caregiving role.