Want to keep your talent? Providing caregiving benefits can be a winning strategy

A huge part of the American workforce is now juggling work with primary care responsibilities to tend to sick or aging family members. For many, the added responsibility spurs caregivers to leave their day job — a growing trend that is putting caregiving benefits in the spotlight.

Some 39% of American caregivers quit their job to take care of loved ones, a survey by Tennessee-based insurance company Unum shows. Most of the workers who quit said it was because of their employer’s unwillingness to accommodate caregiving needs.

“There are more jobs out there than people to fill jobs, so you should consider implementing caregiving benefits if you need to retain the talent you have,” said Michelle Jackson, assistant vice president of sales acceleration at Unum, during webinar hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition on Tuesday.

Around one in six working Americans are the primary caregivers for sick and elderly loved ones, according to the survey. The Unum survey says a quarter of caregivers are millennials, but the average age is 40. Companies that don’t offer caregiving benefits risk losing both new talent and seasoned veterans.

“The U.S. has an aging population, so there’s going to be a growing need for millennials to step up,” Stephanie Willett, director of workforce solutions at Unum, said during the webinar. “Caregivers also take care of sick children and people with chronic or life threatening conditions, like cancer.”

Employee caregivers are twice as likely to develop chronic conditions because of the stress of juggling work and caregiving duties, Willett said. That translates into higher healthcare insurance spending for their employer. Increased stress also lowers employee productivity by almost 20%, and can cost companies thousands of dollars.

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Filipino care worker John Denmark Pineda assists an elderly resident at Eisei hospital in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2016. Strict regulations mean that only about 2,600 nurses and caregivers from Southeast Asia are working in Japan. Pineda, now married to a Japanese citizen and aiming to pass the country's notoriously difficult nursing qualification, said that migrant workers should be allowed to play a bigger role. Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act entitles workers to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for qualified family and medical reasons — including caregiving — but workers are hesitant to take it because it’s unpaid, Jackson said. Besides, it would be more profitable for companies to accommodate caregiving employees; Unum’s survey says absent employees cost the U.S. economy approximately $25.2 billion a year.

“What caregiving employees want most is flexibility,” Jackson said. “They don’t always need to take a day off; a supportive employer who lets caregivers work from home, or flexible hours, can make a huge difference.”

Providing flexible work hours and telecommute opportunities is the easiest way to appeal to caregiving employees, Jackson said. But companies that want to stay competitive in the job market should consider new, creative options to appeal to this demographic.

“Employees may need one day off a week to take someone to cancer treatments. Or you could consider a backup care benefit; it’s a service that sends a trained professional to take over caregiving duties for a day,” Mary Ellen Eady, work-life specialist at Emory University, said during the webinar.

Adapting company policy to allow employees to use sick time to care for family members is a common method for accommodating caregivers. Jackson says companies looking to provide caregiver-centric benefits should contact the insurance companies they already contract with since it is likely your company is already paying for resources.

“Most of the time it’s educational resources to point you in the direction of programs and services that can help, but letting employees know what their options are is a great place to start,” Jackson said. “You can always build your benefit offerings from there.”

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