The challenge of balancing career demands and caregiving responsibilities

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For 60% of the working population who juggle paid work with caregiving, companies have only recently increased their focus on providing paid family leave and other support programs.

The burden of caregiving affects employees in and out of the office: caregivers can experience emotional strain, financial challenges and economic risk, incurring steep out-of-pocket costs. The ratio of caregivers, which used to be 7:1 in 2010, has shrunk to 4:1, as people postpone parenting until later in life and have fewer children. The burden will become even heavier as the coronavirus crisis takes hold, placing further strain on caregivers.

Read more: Coronavirus highlights need for caregiver benefits

A 2018 AARP survey reports that 37% of older workers find it difficult to return to work after taking leave to provide care to a family member. Moreover, 11% of older workers who are providing parental care expect to take temporary leave or quit their jobs in the next five years.

“It’s not just older workers,” says Tricia Sandiego, senior adviser of AARP Caregiving. “Multicultural and multigenerational households involve extended families, even cousins and neighbors. These demographics influence the talent companies attract, so it makes sense to offer eldercare to any type of worker.”

Bright Horizons expanded their eldercare benefit in 2019 because they saw a connection between the challenges of caring for children and the elderly. Both require extended planning, but eldercare often has more challenges associated because a parent’s symptoms may improve or deteriorate and the care time spans four years.

Voya Financial makes the Wellthy service available to its employees to relieve some day-to-day logistical and administrative caregiving tasks. “What a tremendous stress reliever to turn everything over to someone else — calling, negotiating, and worrying — and trust that they’d handle it competently and with genuine care,” says Kris Fregin, a regional business consultant for Voya Financial.

Employees’ wish list

While each caregiving case is unique, employees prize flexibility above all for dealing with eldercare, and want creative solutions around scheduling. That latitude may manifest as telecommuting, job-sharing, a compressed workweek, or adjusting hours, like working more at night.

Companies should address stigmas, too, by raising awareness. An employee might fear being seen lacking commitment for taking a personal day, or adjusting a work schedule to accommodate a parent’s medical appointments.

Employers can provide support in managing complexities of arranging care, as well as connections to expertise. Bright Horizons, for instance, offers an online and mobile care project management platform, augmented with access to a certified geriatric care coach.

Competitive Advantage

Although paid or unpaid leave is often treasured, smaller businesses especially may not be able to provide that luxury. Employers should look at other low cost solutions, such as local community aging agencies, which are federally operated through eldercare.gov, and communicate about them to staff.

Many disease management groups, like the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Society make good partners. Also, remind employees to leverage existing benefits, which they may not fully understand.

These proactive policies lead to a more committed and more able workforce. “Keeping tabs on employees and looking for signs of burnout can help manage the effect of caregiving,” says Tami Simon, global corporate consulting leader at Segal, an employee benefits consulting company. Look out for signs of depression, concern about financial security, excessive absences or substance abuse.

An empathetic employer is a powerful attraction for employees who must tend to elderly family members. As workers themselves age, many will likely assume caregiving roles. Therefore, offering eldercare is a tool for talent management from a recruitment and retention standpoint. Nurturing loyalty and good morale has direct financial payoffs. Employers can worry less about brain drain or the costs of turnover, and focus on building a supportive culture.

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