7 ways clients can support employee caregivers

The number of caregiving adults in the U.S. has reached a tipping point.

As the baby boomer generation gets older, an increasing number of people in the workforce are taking on the role of unpaid caregiver for a family member or friend. Many also are in the midst of raising their own children, which means they’re pulled in many different directions, trying to keep up with work commitments and family responsibilities. In fact, according to researchers at Harvard Business School, 73% of employees in the U.S. are caring for a child, parent or friend.

What do all these statistics point to? They mean that employers have an opportunity to play a role in helping employees balance these often competing priorities.

The Harvard study highlights the impact of employee caregiving responsibilities on the workplace. While only 24% of employers surveyed believed employee caregiving influenced their employees’ performance at work, 80% of the employees who were surveyed admitted that caregiving had an effect on their productivity at work and interfered with their ability to do their best work.

The survey also found that caregiving can affect employee retention, with 32% of the employees surveyed saying they had left a job because of their caregiving responsibilities. In addition, employees who are caregivers are more likely to miss work, arrive late or leave early, which affects not only productivity, but also the employees’ ability to progress in their careers.

Employers can take a proactive role in supporting employees who are caregivers. That support, in turn, can have a positive effect on productivity, morale and employee retention. Here are seven strategies employers should consider.

Create an organization-wide understanding of the challenges caregivers face.
Employees who aren’t sure that their managers and leaders would understand the juggling they’re doing and the stresses they face are more likely to not only have problems at work, but — because they face high stress levels trying to get everything done at home and work — they also are at higher risk for a number of health problems such as depression and heart disease. By creating a culture that allows employees to openly express their challenges and ask for support, employers can not only keep employees healthy and productive, they also can reduce secondary costs associated with decreased productivity and chronic health problems.
Know what challenges employees face.
Regular employee surveys can help employers assess employees’ needs in terms of caregiving and tailor the benefits the organization offers to help meet those needs.
Communicate the benefits that are available.
In many cases, employers already offer programs and benefits that can help employees who are caregivers such as an employee assistance program and referral services for finding caregivers who can help when the employee isn’t able to. However, many employees aren’t aware these programs are available, so it’s important to continuously share information about them in company newsletters, emails and at meetings.
Consider flex time and remote work options.
Depending on the employees’ work responsibilities, employers can offer flexible work arrangements that allow employees to work different hours or to telecommute for a certain number of days per week.
Change the approach to paid time off.
Rather than dividing paid time off into vacation days, sick days and personal days, consider grouping all time off into one category. That allows employees to take time off for caregiving as needed. A growing number of companies, including Adobe, Deloitte, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Coca-Cola, are also offering paid family leave benefits so that employees can take time off to provide care.
Connect employees with resources.
Beyond an EAP and referral services, employers can offer programs that connect caregivers with resources for both their caregiving role and for the self-care they need to remain healthy and able to handle both job and caregiving roles better. Those resources can include:
Connect employees with resources.
Beyond an EAP and referral services, employers can offer programs that connect caregivers with resources for both their caregiving role and for the self-care they need to remain healthy and able to handle both job and caregiving roles better. Those resources can include:

· Advisory services that help employees connect with healthcare providers for their parents, children and themselves
· Nurse managers, case managers and geriatric care managers who can help employees who are managing the care of a family member who’s living with a serious health condition or disability
· Advocates who can help employees who are dealing with complex insurance claims for the person they care for, planning for long-term care, or managing the legal and financial complexities that can arise when a parent or spouse dies
Internal caregiver resources groups that bring together employees who are dealing with the issues surrounding caregiving so that they can share ideas and experiences
Measure how well your support is working.
The first step to supporting caregivers in the workforce is to implement policies, programs and benefits that offer them the tools they need to balance work and caregiving. An equally important second step is to regularly review what is offered, how much the offerings are used, and by which employees. Ask employees for feedback on how effectively what the organization provides is in helping them with issues they face as working caregivers and solicit ideas for new approaches and tools they’d like to have.