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Here's How People Managers Can Support Employees Who Are Caregivers

Research shows that managers often play a key role in helping employees feel supported at work.

A man and woman holding an umbrella in the rain.

​Caregiver is the fastest-growing employee group, with 73 percent of all employees having some type of current caregiving responsibility, according to a recent Harvard Business School study titled The Caring Company. Many employees are not just caring for a child but also for an elderly parent or a family member with a disability.

More than half (53 percent) of employees ages 40-49 and 36 percent of all workers ages 40 and older are caregivers for an adult, typically a partner/spouse or parent, according to a recent AARP report. Survey participants reported having to work remotely, change work hours, reduce hours, use paid caregiving leave or quit their job altogether to provide care within the last five years.

Employers are starting to pay attention to this growing trend. "We have noticed an uptick since the start of the pandemic in the number of people who have talked about their increased responsibilities in the open," says Piyush Mehta, chief human resources officer at Genpact, a New York City-based global professional services firm that employs 115,000 globally.

"People managers need to recognize that caregiving is a full-time responsibility," Mehta says. At Genpact, 70 percent of employees are based in India, where most people care for their extended families, he says. For global companies, caregiving is not a new issue.

Experts say there are several reasons why more U.S. employees are taking on caregiving responsibilities, including longer life expectancies and couples having children later in life. Since the pandemic began, there have been fewer options for hiring child care or elder care, and such care has become increasingly expensive, says Mandy Price, co-founder and CEO of Kanarys Inc., a Dallas-based software firm that focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion data.

In addition, employee expectations have changed since the pandemic allowed more people to work from home and take care of family members, says Chris Lewter, vice president and general manager of San Jose-based BlueJeans by Verizon, which offers cloud-based videoconferencing services. Although many offices have reopened, employees want to continue to care for their family members in a meaningful way, he says.

To better support employees who are balancing work and caregiving, some companies are beginning to track the caregiver status of their workers. "Unless you're tracking these issues in your organization, you don't know how to address it," Price says.

For example, Synchrony's 18,000 employees can voluntarily identify themselves as caregivers when answering demographic questions during the company's annual survey, Chief Talent Officer Claudine Hoverson says.

Last year, 20 percent of employees told Synchrony that they care for children and adults, 40 percent said they care for children and 10 percent said they care for only adults or elders, she says. This information, combined with listening to individual employee stories and concerns, has helped Synchrony provide more benefits to support workers who are caregivers.

One benefit that came out of discussions with caregivers is a policy allowing employees to take a one-year sabbatical to take care of children and/or aging parents, Hoverson says. The sabbatical allows employees to take the time they need without having to quit their jobs.

More employees are faced with this difficult choice, which can have severe financial consequences. A MetLife study found that adult workers taking care of elderly parents lose an estimated $3 trillion in aggregate lost wages, pension contributions and Social Security benefits.

But employees aren't the only ones losing money. U.S. businesses lose $35 billion annually from failing to attract, support and retain workers who have caregiving responsibilities, according to the Harvard Business School study.

In fact, more company leaders acknowledge that supporting employees who are caregivers is essential for retaining and attracting talent.

"As we see this potentially increasing, I think companies are going to have to adapt because employees are going to go where they get the most value, and the value is not just compensation," says Alan Winters, chief people officer and chief diversity officer at Murray, Utah-based Teleperformance Group, a global company that provides outsourced customer experience management.

A 2022 study of 13,000 people by Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School; Matt Messel, an economist at the Social Security Administration; and Wayne State University economist Yulya Truskinovsky found that employment dropped almost 8 percent for workers who became caregivers compared to demographically similar noncaregivers.

Managers often play a key role in helping employees feel supported at work. Here are five ways people managers can help employees who are caregivers.

Have Meaningful Conversations

Managers shouldn't underestimate the importance of having frequent, one-on-one conversations that enable them to build a relationship where the employee feels comfortable talking about their caregiving responsibilities and asking for help. Employees at GenPact are encouraged to talk about caregiver issues with their supervisor or colleagues as part of their regular workplace conversation, Mehta says.

At BlueJeans, if an employee's job isn't conducive to their new caregiver responsibilities, the manager will discuss whether there might be another role at the company that could provide them with more flexibility, Lewter says. But that type of discussion can only occur if the manager and employee have regular one-on-one discussions and have established a sense of trust, he says.

Be Flexible

Sometimes, even if a company has flexible policies and a supportive work culture, an employee's individual manager might not be as empathetic, says Sarah Johal, executive director and owner of Parents in Tech Alliance, a national nonprofit coalition in Castro Valley, Calif., that enables healthy tech work for all families. She is also the co-author of the Harvard Business Review article "Supporting Employee Caregivers Starts with Better Data."

Johal recommends that people managers be more curious when speaking with employees to find out their needs and how, as a manager, they can be more of an ally to caregivers and practice more empathy.

Don't Make Assumptions

A recent study found that 42 percent of parents felt their boss was not supportive of family leave, and nearly a quarter (22 percent) believed they lost out on a promotion or raise because of it. Managers need to be careful not to make assumptions about caregivers when handing out new assignments.

"If there is stretch role or career opportunity available, and you know someone is a caregiver, don't make the assumption that they won't have the time or be invested in the project," Johal says. Instead, let the employee make that decision.

Support the Creation of a Caregiver Group

Synchrony created a caregiver network during the height of the pandemic to support its employees. "The group started with working parents, and it evolved to include people taking care of elderly parents," says Marlena Brun, the group's co-founder. Brun, a vice president of strategic initiatives, is caring for a child with learning differences, as well as her elderly parents. There are more than 1,200 members of the caregiver network, and Synchrony leverages it to understand what caregivers need, Brun says.

Elsewhere, Verizon has a caregiver employee resource group called Parents and Caregivers Together. PACT began as a parenting employee resource group, but as the group evolved and grew, it became clear that employees who perform a caregiver role for a friend or family member often have similar issues, so the group expanded to include them in 2017, Lewter says.

Make Sure Employees Understand Their Benefits

Even when companies have a wealth of benefits that caregivers can tap into, employees don't always know what is available or how to access it, Johal says. Managers should help employees understand what benefits are available to them, whether it's subsidized elder care or child care, access to an employee assistance program, or an affinity group for caregivers, she says.

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.


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