Investing in the ‘New Normal’: Are Companies Afraid to Admit Caregiving is now a Business Problem?

Nancy LeaMond (Executive Vice President & Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, Communities, States and National Affairs at AARP) reports:

[C]aregiving also has long been, and will continue to be, a business and workforce issue. [S]ix in 10 family caregivers are working while more than one in three are working full time. In fact, the average family caregiver is a 49 year old woman who works 35 hours a week and spends 20 hours a week caring for her mother. At the same time, almost 25 percent of family caregivers are Millennials and the average millennial caregiver is working a full time job. All this boils down to one key point-caregiving and work are the ‘New Normal.’ As workers across all generations are facing the issue of caring for loved ones, employers need to respond.

I’m new to the world of cubicles and water fountain chats, but it has been an enlightening experience, to say the least. I work in public health and every day I share a building with hundreds of different people.

In the short few months I have been here, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in conversations held amongst my co-workers. Where aside from the latest news from ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or the upcoming election, are the in-depth and more personal stories of caregiving.

Just this morning, I walked by a woman noticeably upset at the sudden aphasia (A language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate) her father experienced after a recent stroke. She expressed frustration at her inability to understand him, sadness that her father was ill, and exhaustion that now on top of preparing her kids for a new school year she would be spending the next few months searching for care facilities.

And last week, in conversation with a coworker who although has a decent living wage is concerned that her parents, who never saved for retirement, will be retiring just as her second daughter starts college. Responsible for paying for both, she half humorously joked that she has come to realize she will never be able to afford to retire.

In both of these cases and the countless others I have encountered, there was a noticeable trend. As they were speaking, a look of disbelief was in their eyes, a shocked tone in their voice, and a declarative “I don’t know how I’m going to do it” at the end of each story.

‘The New Normal’

The deeply personal stories of caregiving are becoming more frequent in the workplace. And for these workers, strain from outside stressors will undoubtedly have an impact on their productivity and performance. 61% of family caregivers are currently employed either full-time or part-time, and since this number will only increase in the coming years, this issue demands the attention of our businesses.

All across the country, advocates for caregivers  report the push for companies to understand and plan for ‘The New Normal.’ And for good reason, without the flexibility and understanding from businesses, caregivers are faced with the decision to leave the workforce altogether to support the needs of the older adult in their life. Early retirement then puts a strain on their ability to afford their future healthcare needs.

Caregiving as a Business Problem

A work/life balance is an eternal human debate, which stirs up more philosophical discussions too deep to touch on here.  However, we have all felt the pressures at some point to gracefully manage the responsibilities of both.

For family caregivers, the luxury of grace is often too far from reality to even daydream. The average family caregiver of an older adult in America is a 49-year-old female. Too young to retire and still raising a family these individuals/parents/workers/caregivers are left to “figure it out” when it comes to balancing between all of their responsibilities.

Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) caregivers report making work accommodations because of caregiving. -Lynn Feinberg and Rita Choula AARP Public Policy Institute

To not invest in such a vast majority of our workforce population is proving to be bad for business. U.S. companies lose billions of dollars a year due to workers adapting their work schedule to manage their caregiving responsibilities. At such high frequency’s the demands of a caregiver no longer can be just the individual’s problem.

And even more than the companies bottom line is the simple fact that caregiving is stressful! Depression and staff burnout are known side effects of overburdened full-time and part-time worker/caregiver. These conditions severely impact staff morale and the physical health of employees and ultimately the quality of work they conduct in the workplace.

What can employers do?

First, is the acceptance from companies that this is a workplace issue. In recognition, companies will find that there is a range of policies and programs that they can adopt to support their workforce better.

Hold a meeting. You may already have a weekly meeting on the calendar take 5 minutes to announce interest in this initiative and possibly even to survey how many of the employees are in fact, caregivers.

Collect and distribute caregiving resources. AARP is a national leader in advocating for Caregivers. Their program ReAct is an online resource designed for the workplace and offers employers with best practices to support their workforce and maintain productivity.

Start a workgroup. Opportunities for employees to meet with their co-workers and discuss shared experiences can do wonders for the mental health of your employees. Although this meeting could be held before or after business hours holding the meeting during office hours ensures that all employees can attend if they want to.

Consider Telework and compensatory time. The typical 9-5 work day is confining and offers little opportunity to schedule medical appointments for our loved ones where we wouldn’t have to take off work. Teleworking and Comp time provide flexibility to the work week and allow employees to schedule appointments while maintaining productivity.

Investing in our staff creates a more friendly and productive workforce. There are a staggering amount of caregivers with full-time and part-time jobs and the number will only increase over the next few years. Employers have an opportunity to not only foster a healthy work environment within their company but,  also to provide a bit more quality of life for their employees and in turn the older adults that depend on them every day.

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