Family Caregiving Trendsetters Share Their Tips

Simple accommodations help workers care for aging parents

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS January 9, 2018
Family Caregiving Trendsetters Share Their Tips

Cutting-edge employers are making America's workplaces better for employees who are caring for elderly parents and other family members, and the result is improved employee engagement and productivity, said HR business leaders at a recent forum in Washington, D.C.

"Savvy employers and human resource directors are implementing smart policies and benefits to support family caregivers in their workforces—offerings that also help attract and retain strong employees," said Jeremy Nobel, medical director at Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH), a nonprofit regional business coalition made up of large employers.

Speaking at the AARP Family Caregiving 2018 Executive Summit, held last month, Nobel said that the NEBGH, in partnership with AARP, has developed an employer's toolkit for supporting working caregivers that encourages employers to provide:

  • Flexibility in job assignment and leave.
  • Resources on caregiving services in the area.
  • Well-being support for the caregivers, who often are dealing with stress and depression.

Helping Overwhelmed Caregivers

"[AARP believes] in practicing what we preach, so in October 2016 we announced we would begin giving two weeks of paid caregiving leave in addition to normal vacation and sick time," said Scott Frisch, executive vice president and chief operating officer at AARP. In those 14 months, "we've had 25 percent of our staff of 2,300 use the caregiving leave benefit, using about 19,000 hours of caregiving leave to make our staffs' lives easier. It creates a sense of loyalty, productivity goes up and it takes some of the stress out of what otherwise would be an overwhelming situation."

Erik Sossa, vice president for global benefits and wellness at PepsiCo, said his company supports family caregivers by supplying:

  • Information on local home health aides and facilities.
  • Backup day care for children and for older family members.
  • Second-opinion medical services for all family members.

"When you have 100,000 employees, it makes putting in new programs expensive," Sossa said. "So start by going to your existing partners"—such as your employee assistance program (EAP), if you have one—"or go to your backup child care partners, or to your second-opinion service partners. And extend those programs to cover adult caregiving responsibilities."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Work/Life Fit: Dependent Care and Elder Care]

Addressing Caregiving Stigma

Employees often are uncomfortable letting their workplace know that they are dealing with caregiving challenges, fearing it could impede their ability to move up within the organization, said Michael Weiner, associate director at consultancy EY.

"To address that stigma, we've created a peer-led group for caregivers within the company," he said. The group holds conference calls that EY employees throughout the U.S. can attend, allowing them to share resources, tell their stories "and encourage each other to talk to their management about what they need," Weiner said.

The firm has modified its sick-leave policy "so that the sick leave can be used to take care of anybody who is sick within your family," he said. The company also provides access to caregiver resources at the website "so people can do self-directed research."

Back-Up Care and Flex Arrangements

"For several years we've offered resources and referrals for caregivers," said Richard McDonald, head of global benefits and vendor management at Johnson & Johnson. "In 2018, we're expanding backup care so it's not only for children but for those who need senior care."

In addition, his company has "expanded our sick time to include a broad definition of family members and added 40 hours of additional paid personal and family time off."

"For many years we've offered flexible work arrangements and flex schedules that help employees to meet their work and family needs," McDonald said. "We offer long-term leave of 52 weeks with job protection, but that's unpaid right now. We'd like to have a conversation with leadership around how we can have paid time off for extended periods."

Listening to Employees

"Get a leader within the organization to tell their caregiving story," Weiner said. "Videotape and send it out to everybody.

"If you have an employee that's struggling at work and they haven't been struggling before, that could be a sign that somebody is dealing with a personal issue that's come up in their lives," he added.

Advised McDonald, "[Make] sure that managers are aware of internal plans and programs that employees can leverage to meet that need, so that they can have those conversations."

Listen to your employees, Sossa advised. "See what their issues are, and identify steps you can take" to help them to address their needs.

"Make sure that they know that they will be fully supported, and that there are no repercussions to reaching out for help," Weiner said. Then "encourage caregivers to tell their peers that it's OK to ask for help."

Related SHRM Article:

Employers See Opportunity to Help Workers Take Care of Others, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2017

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