Tech companies edge into crowded caregiving space

Adin Bailey — well-being program manager at Brinker International, a casual dining restaurant company that manages popular chains including Chili’s and Maggiano’s — knows better than anyone how important it is for employees to be engaged at work.

Bailey assists about 600 workers at the company’s restaurant support center in Dallas, which backs Brinker dining establishments across the country.

The work is demanding and, like most jobs, only gets more stressful when employees are bogged down by issues at home — a dilemma for employee caregivers, who may be responsible for supporting a sick parent, child or disabled relative. This is a common problem for the company, Bailey says, and one for which they were looking for a solution.

“A lot of the stories we hear are about taking care of parents,” she says. “[Our employees] have elderly parents and they don’t know how to navigate that. They take care of them on their own, and they don’t necessarily know all the ins and outs.”

Enter Cariloop, a caregiving support platform that Brinker began offering to its workers in 2016. Platforms like Cariloop are intended to help the ballooning number of employee caregivers in the nation, and work with employers to help these workers ease some of their stress by helping them manage care.

caregiver-benefits-chart

The number of caregivers is soaring: About 40 million American adults provide unpaid care for a child or adult each year, according to a 2015 report from AARP’s Public Policy Institute. On average, these individuals spend 24.4 hours per week providing care and more than half say they work full time, AARP reports. This places a heavy burden on workers who often find themselves stretched thin between work and family responsibilities.

For Brinker, the Cariloop app helps caregiving employees “kind of get their mind off [those personal issues] throughout the day so they can focus on work,” Bailey says. “Not because we don’t want them doing that during the day, but because we know that can be difficult and we want to support them so they’re not feeling like they have to struggle with that alone.”

See also: Caregiving benefits grow in popularity

Cariloop, which entered the benefit and well-being space in 2015, is just one option for employers in an ever-growing number of tech options for employee caregivers. Other solutions include Torchlight and Wellthy — but these are far from the only options.

The amount of caregiving-focused technology available to employers has grown significantly over the last three years as more players bring apps to market, says Mark Cunningham-Hill, medical director of the Northeast Business Group on Health.

As the caregiving technology space becomes more competitive, employers are faced with difficult choices when selecting the right provider for the benefit. Save for doing their own research and approaching each individual vendor, there aren’t many ways for employers to learn what’s available, he adds.

NEBGH and AARP released a guide last year for employers to follow when selecting caregiving tech for their workers. The guide lists 24 available apps with information on their user base, privacy standards and digital features. It also includes tips for selecting a best fit, like looking for a platform that also has a human supported component, either in the form of a tech coach or care coordinator.

“A lot of employers don’t know about [caregiving technologies], and the first time they hear about it is when they get a call from a vendor and they don’t know where to go,” Cunningham-Hill says. “This guide gives them the place so if any vendor comes up, at least they have a reference point.”

Offering caregiving benefits could be a good strategy for employers to retain talent. A recent survey from Unum found that 39% of American caregivers quit their jobs to take care of a loved one. Most employees who quit say it was because their employer was unwilling to accommodate their needs, the survey says. Providing a tool, along with other caregiver-centric benefits, could help employees better manage their stress and their family members’ needs, experts contend.

Finding the right match
Platforms have different features that may be helpful to certain employers and employees.

Cariloop CEO Michael Walsh says his company assigns a healthcare coach to each employee. Employees can use the platform to centralize their communication about care and share health, financial and legal documents.

“[The healthcare coach’s] job is to go on this journey and hold you and your family’s hand through all of it,” he says. “How this ends up manifesting itself over the course of time is they’re helping to do research on healthcare providers, home care, daycare — they’re helping coordinate care between those different entities.”

See also: How employers can better support the caregivers in their workforces

Biopharmaceutical giant Amgen uses caregiving platform Torchlight to assist workers with anything from navigating a child being cyber bullied to helping an elderly parent.

Amanda McComb, senior associate of employee experience at Amgen, says the company offers Torchlight’s program for resources for caring for the special needs of children and its eldercare feature to 10,500 eligible employees. McComb says she personally uses both of the Torchlight programs. The average age of an Amgen employee is 43, making most part of the sandwich generation, meaning workers may be responsible for taking care of aging parents and young children, she says.

“If staff is worrying about who’s caring for their children, or [about] their elderly parents, they’re not focused on work and they’re not focused on themselves,” she says. “We need healthy and happy employees.”

Torchlight founder and CEO Adam Goldberg says his platform gives employees a “playbook” to help them address a number of different issues they may be facing as a caregiver. Employees can either use the tools to navigate on their own, or they have an option to speak with an expert. Goldberg says he has been a caregiver for his aunt, father and children, and the development of Torchlight speaks to his own experiences. He says employers relate well to the platform because they want a benefit that helps employees in a variety of different scenarios.

“Employers really took to that because it’s sometimes hard for employers to justify a niche or two within the workforce, they want to invest in benefits that cover as many folks as possible,” he says. “Who doesn’t in the workforce, or in life in general, experience any of this stuff?”

Wellthy, another care coordination tool, helps employees who are caring for a chronically ill relative. Lindsay Jurist-Rosner, founder and CEO of the company, says Wellthy’s care coordinators can do everything from help employees find the right in-home aid to locating doctors and scheduling appointments.

“It’s just so time-consuming for these employees to deal with the healthcare system,” she says.

Jurist-Rosner says the company typically hires social workers to the role of care coordinator because they are well-equipped to help employees through what is often a very stressful time. Employees typically approach Wellthy in a reactive state — for example if an elderly parent just had a fall, or received a new diagnosis, she says. Media giant News Corp., which owns outlets including the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, offers Wellthy as a benefit to its employees.

Tech companies that provide mental wellness benefits also are seeing the value of entering the caregiving space. For instance, Ginger.io — a smartphone app that provides emotional support coaches to workers via text —partnered with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 Benefits Group in 2017 to offer the tool as a mental healthcare benefit to the group’s homecare workers.

Merissa Clyde, the managing director of SEIU 775 Benefits Group’s health benefits trust, says homecare workers are often isolated in their clients’ homes providing care for long periods of time. In some cases, she says, the person the employee cares for is a family member. The stress associated with being a full-time caregiver can take a toll on mental health and impact work performance. Having a way to text a coach is not only convenient, but can relieve some of that stress, Clyde says.

“When caregivers feel supportive, they’re able to do their job better and we hope this continues to provide retention,” she says.

Cunningham-Hill agrees that caregiving tech can be a good way to attract and retain employees. Convenience of use, he adds, also makes it more likely that workers will use the benefit.

“I think there’s a significant return on investment in these,” he says. “Caregiving impacts productivity, it’s often a reason why people leave the workforce. It’s really a tool, probably more than some other benefits that are out there, for a fairly significant portion of the population.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.