It wasn't so long ago that an onsite child care center was the gold standard for caregiving benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. The ongoing trend toward remote and hybrid work and evolving employee priorities now requires a broader approach to supporting caregivers.
Different employees are dealing with unique situations that create specific needs, whether these are caring for young children at home, helping elderly parents living in another state, aiding a friend recovering from surgery with grocery shopping or other needs, or even taking time off to care for pets.
"It is time for employers to think outside of the traditional caregiving box and apply an equity and inclusion lens to the caregiving experience," said Andrew Parker, CEO of caregiving platform firm Papa Inc., in Miami, Fla. "Offering benefits that can flex to meet your employees' needs and complement your other offerings will be critical in achieving engagement results," he noted.
Effective caregiving support adjusts to accommodate employees' differing work and personal situations. For example:
- Hybrid employees may need different child care options depending on whether they are working in the office or at home on a given day.
- Part-time and shift workers may need more flexible child care options outside of daytime hours and for only a few hours at a time.
In these cases, employers may need to provide resources to help employees find providers to fill those needs at a reasonable cost.
At other times, employees may simply need room to maneuver as they manage their caregiving responsibilities. That is why insurance company Allstate continues to look for ways to maximize flexibility for its primarily remote workforce. "This includes the flexibility to schedule their work efficiently," said Wheeling, Ill.-based Tracy Allie, the company's senior HR manager. When flexibility is not enough, employees have access to a bank of up to 64 hours of emergency paid time off each year, she said.
With people working remotely, Allstate employees have become more aware of how they and their colleagues are constantly blending work and home life. This has led to more honesty about how they are coping and how personal issues might be affecting them at work.
"People are now willing to be more transparent with each other (about) why they are out of the office and not available, even when they are taking time away to disconnect and recharge," Allie said. "That has been a big change because employees who are caregivers recognize that, if they are going to bring their whole selves to work, they need to acknowledge the strains of caregiving."
In many ways, "HR has become the caregiver of the workplace," said Deb Smolensky, senior vice president of well-being and engagement with NFP Corp., an insurance broker and benefits consulting firm based in New York City. "Their role is to attract, retain and care for the workforce by providing what is most important to help employees thrive."
Allstate views its support for caregivers as integral to the success of its returnship program. This support is featured prominently when talking to candidates for the program, which provides 16 weeks of paid work experience to help people who have been out of work for a period of time to transition back to the labor force. Many people in that situation left their jobs due to caregiving responsibilities.
Peer and community support have also emerged as key needs for caregivers. With this perspective, caregiving can include "how to care for the caregiver," Smolensky said.
"We're seeing increasing interest in addressing life's stressors at their root cause, which is leading many employers to prioritize employees' need for social support," according to Parker. This means helping employees see that they do not have to shoulder the burden of caregiving alone and that colleagues can be an important support system.
"Company employee resource groups have become an important focus for caregivers," Allie said. "These are powerful networks for employees and helps caregivers feel supported."
This type of support can also help employees with caregiving responsibilities avoid or mitigate burnout. For example, professional services firm EY Americas has broadened its caregiving benefits in response to these needs. The firm has added pet-related support to its suite of benefits for caregivers, access to coaching to manage caregiving transitions and responsibilities, and free counseling and mental health coaching.
In addition, EY Americas allocates $1,000 to a well-being fund for each employee "for any purchase that furthers well being, such as using a meal service or buying a comfortable mattress," said Wendy Edgar, the firm's HR director.
As employers fine tune their caregiving programs, they also need to make sure they have clear policies and procedures for managing and supporting employees who are caregivers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently provided updated information reminding employers of their responsibility not to discriminate against employees and applicants who are caregivers. For example, employers cannot make hiring or employment decisions by assuming a female worker or applicant would be more likely to have caregiving responsibilities than her male counterpart.
Several states and localities have also established legal protections for caregivers in the workplace.
"Managers and supervisors need training on this issue," said Galen Medley, assistant general counsel and HR consultant with Engage PEO, headquartered in Ft Lauderdale, Fla. "Listen to employee concerns about balancing work and caregiving, then develop policies to support them and prevent problems from occurring."
Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based business and financial writer.
Related SHRM Articles:
Ask HR: How Can We Support Employees Who Are Caregivers?,SHRM Online, May 2022
Supporting Employees with Caregiving Responsibilities, HR Magazine, March 2022