Employers See Opportunity to Help Workers Take Care of Others

Caregiving responsibilities are on the rise and affecting the workplace

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS August 7, 2017
Employers See Opportunity to Help Workers Take Care of Others

More than three-quarters of employers say caregiving benefits will grow in importance to their companies over the next five years, especially when it comes to caring for elderly or ailing family members.

Employers cite increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and reduced health care costs—in that order—as the top drivers that would make a compelling case for investment in caregiving benefits, programs and services, according to responses from benefits managers at 129 mostly large employers throughout the U.S., polled earlier this year by the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) in collaboration with AARP. The findings were reported in a July 2017 report, Caregiving and the Workplace: Employer Benchmarking Survey.

"Caregiving as a benefits issue is on the radar of most employers, but there is wide variation in the support employers provide for employee-caregivers," said Laurel Pickering, president and CEO of the nonprofit NEBGH, an employer-led coalition based in New York City.

Most of the survey respondents permit employees to use sick, vacation or personal days for caregiving, but fewer than half have programs such as caregiver support groups, counseling services, or subsidized in-home back-up care for those being cared for by employees. A minority of employers give workers access to free or low-cost workplace resources supporting caregivers.

"Family caregiving is an issue that affects the vast majority of us. We are either caregivers now, have been in the past, will be in the future or will need care ourselves," said AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond in Washington, D.C. "Of today's 40 million family caregivers, 24 million are juggling caregiving responsibilities and employment. By recognizing and supporting their needs, employers can improve productivity and foster a stable and healthy workforce."

"Our aging population means that more employees will be providing some type of help to sick or immobile loved ones, from preparing meals and providing transportation to doctors' appointments, to performing more onerous responsibilities," said Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH's Solutions Center, which promotes new ideas for improving employee health and reducing costs. The implications of this trend are significant not only for workplace productivity but for employee health and health care costs, he said, because "caregivers tend to abandon their own physical and emotional needs, and employers need to plan for how to respond." 

Employers' Wish List

When asked what items are on top of their caregiving wish list for their employees, had they the funding and authorization to provide them, benefits managers cited in order of importance:

  • Expanded leave policies.
  • Subsidized access to digital tools or other caregiving resources.
  • Coaching, wellness or support services specifically to help caregivers care for themselves.

More than three out of four employers indicate they're interested in providing digital tools to employee caregivers, such as mobile applications that help to track medication use, yet few currently offer these tools.

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

Organizational Challenges

Benefits managers also cited, in order of importance, these barriers to becoming more accommodating of caregivers:

  • Absence of employer benchmarks and best practices for caregiving.
  • Lack of financial resources.
  • Lack of data to identify caregivers.
  • Insufficient organizational capacity to support leave or flexible schedules.
  • Lack of employee engagement with caregiving support.
  • Difficulty getting buy-in from senior leadership.
  • Difficulty managing additional vendors to provide caregiving services.
  • Stigma toward caregiving.

Another challenge: An overwhelming number of respondents said that employees are only "somewhat aware" or "not very aware" of employer-provided caregiving benefits, highlighting a need for effective benefits communications.

Employees, in addition, may not know about available help because they're uncomfortable revealing their caregiver status to managers and colleagues, the report noted. Being identified as a "caregiving-friendly" workplace where the C-suite supports caregiving-friendly policies can show caregivers they needn't fear being stigmatized.

Special Needs: When Parents Have Children with Developmental Disabilities

Ways that employers can help to ease the strain on employees caring for a child with a developmental disability were discussed at the National Employee Well-Being Conference & Exhibition, held July 25 in Alexandria, Va.

"There is a strong business case for providing developmental disability support within the workplace and a cost for doing nothing," said Mike Civello, vice president for employee benefits at Rethink, a New York City-based company that provides workplace benefits for employees caring for children with special needs.

Civello cited findings by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 17 percent of children in the U.S. have some form of developmental disability such as:

  • Autism.
  • Developmental delays.
  • Intellectual or learning disabilities.
  • Speech and language problems.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).
  • Down syndrome.
  • Problem behaviors.

Caregivers experience higher rates of anxiety and depression resulting in increased absenteeism and lost productivity—an average of 250 hours lost work time for caregivers per year, according to research Civello cited. A worker caring for a child with developmental disabilities often turns down job offers from employers that aren't able to provide flexible hours or other types of support, he noted.

One benefit that can be particularly effective, he said, is providing parents with access to video-based training, augmented with personalized coaching, on how to care for children with developmental disabilities. This support, provided through an online platform, helps parents to significantly reduce problem behaviors which, in turn, decreases lost work hours and improves the caregivers' mental and physical health.

"A special needs child has unique learning challenges and often behavior challenges that few parents are equipped to handle," Civello said. "Providing access to a support system and workable techniques can make a major difference in their lives."

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