When it comes to providing caregiving benefits to employees, times have changed. Onsite child care, once the gold standard of caregiving benefits, may not be as necessary or compelling in a remote and hybrid working environment.
With so much changing in the workplace, the need to make sure benefits are relevant and useful to employees has never been greater—especially during a time of high turnover and an extremely competitive market for talent.
Getting caregiving benefits right is also critical to an employer's bottom line: When employees have difficulty juggling caregiving responsibilities, their well-being and productivity can suffer. A 2021 survey of 1,309 people conducted by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers found that among employees with caregiving responsibilities:
- 73 percent had to leave work early or unexpectedly.
- 70 percent had to call out from work for one day.
- 68 percent did not take on additional responsibilities or projects.
- 60 percent felt the quality or timeliness of their work suffered.
- 59 percent had to take two or more days off in a row from work.
- 52 percent lost income because they had to miss work.
For employers, these findings are being felt in the form of absenteeism, lost productivity and turnover. One way to counteract these trends is to help employees with their caregiving responsibilities.
Listening to Employees
"In the environment created by the pandemic, working from home with school closures and limited access to elder care facilities and support created serious work/life balance issues," said Amy O'Neill, vice president of health benefits at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston.
To identify the best way to help, the company held focus groups to learn about the challenges in employees' caregiving lives and asked what employees wanted from the company to help.
In the early months of the pandemic, Liberty Mutual focused on "rapid-fire services we knew employees needed," said O'Neill. For example, during the height of school closures, employees could take advantage of a company-paid subscription service providing daily at-home learning activities and to tutoring services that the company began offering online.
Three thousand Liberty Mutual employees signed up for free access to an online dashboard with digital tools to help parents find child and elder care that meets their needs. Most recently, the company offered up to 10 days of emergency backup child and elder care through the end of 2021.
The company now plans to survey employees about their caregiving needs and available benefits in 2022 and ask which caregiving-related benefits they value the most.
O'Neill plans to couple the survey results with information from employee focus groups so she can set priorities for the future. She plans to break down the results by demographics, including gender, location and years with the company.
"From there, we can focus on three or four priorities," O'Neill said. However, she will also be working to make sure caregiving benefits remain equitable. With so many disparate needs, it is important that caregiving benefits recognize that some employees will have greater needs than others, she noted.
Better Benefits on a Budget
Employers that want to provide caregiving support but are concerned about costs have options. "Pricing models on vendors can range from $2.50 to $4 per employee per month," said Doug Ramsthel, executive vice president and partner with Burnham Benefits Insurance Services in Irvine, Calif. Online platforms that provide caregiving information and lists of caregivers can be an important element of these benefits, he explained.
Employers, however, may be able to use other technology that is not specific to caregiving. For example, organizations that have hourly shift workers with changing schedules, such as those in the hospitality and retail industries, can explore technology and apps that allow employees to change their work schedules more easily when they need flexibility due to caregiving responsibilities.
Employers also may be able to:
- Allow employees to work from home for some or all of a shift by working on inventory, ordering or other tasks that can now be done remotely.
- Develop guidelines for flexibility in working hours, whether it's at-home or hybrid work.
- Offer specific windows of time off by balancing what makes sense for the organization with what employees need.
When employees need more than a schedule change, employers can turn to a concierge service that evaluates employee needs and provides lists of vetted resources. "A lot of these concierge providers will do all of the legwork," which can save employees a lot of time and reduce stress, Ramsthel said.
A concierge resource also allows employees to call ahead of time to set up caregiving when they know they will need it because of school closures or other reasons. In other cases, the concierge can prompt employees to think through who could provide backup care when their children are sick. For instance, the service can help parents identify relatives or friends who might provide unplanned care when necessary. "The average family can identify six individuals who can be backup caregivers that they don't automatically think of," he said. "This information should be integrated into any caregiving solution."
Different Employees, Different Needs
Above all, it is important to recognize that different employee segments have different needs. "Caregiving is not just for parents," Liberty Mutual's O'Neill said. "Elder care can also cause employees to struggle with work/life balance."
Employees caring for parents and other older relatives can use resources to identify elder care solutions, then set up tours of residential facilities and adult day care options before they need them.
Offering caregivers flexibility over where and when they work can be important for recruitment and retention, because it's a benefit that some employees and job candidates may value more than extra money. "Employers tend to lead with pay, but there may be a significant gap between what employers think employees and job candidates want and what those individuals actually want," Ramsthel said.
Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based business and financial writer.