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The Lesser Known Struggles of Working Caregivers

The Importance of Recognizing Your Employee Caregiver Population

Dana loves her job. She has worked at her company for 15 years, making good career progress and getting “above average” performance appraisals. Unexpectedly, Dana’s dad passes away, leaving her to care for her elderly, bed-ridden mother. She moves her mother into her home and hires a companion to cover her working hours. She personally cares for her mother the rest of the time – the equivalent of a second full-time job.

Jim is an attorney on the fast track to partnership in a prestigious law firm. His frail, elderly father lives four hours away, and Jim makes the drive every weekend. He is tense on Fridays and exhausted on Mondays.

Sherry’s elderly father is safe and well-cared-for in an independent-living facility, but he is lonely and bored. He phones Sherry at her busy job nearly every day, frequently asking her to research topics for him. He leaves grumpy, accusing voicemails when he doesn’t reach her at her desk.

Dana, Jim and Sherry have the dual responsibility of caring for an elderly adult while holding down a full-time job.

According to AARP’s public policy institute, they are among an estimated 23.9 million employed caregivers. Of these, 28 percent help their relative or friend with three or more activities of daily living (such as bathing, dressing or using the toilet), and more than half perform complex medical/nursing tasks (such as wound care or administering multiple medications). Increasingly, employed caregivers are millennials – men and women age 34 and younger.

The AARP study reports that the overwhelming majority of employed caregivers experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • Coming to work late, leaving early or taking unscheduled time off
  • Requesting a leave of absence
  • Reducing work hours, accepting a less demanding job or refusing a promotion
  • Receiving a reprimand or warning about work performance or attendance
  • Giving up employment entirely or taking early retirement

As devastating financially, professionally and/or emotionally as these impacts are for caregiving employees, the cost is similarly high for employers in terms of attendance or presenteeism, supervisory time, reduced productivity, or the loss of experienced employees and the cost of replacing them.

Data is scarce, but the MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Business estimates a cost to employers of $17.1 billion to $33.6 billion annually attributable to caregiving. These costs are due primarily to absenteeism, shifts from full-time to part-time work, replacing employees, and workday interruptions.

Employers have been slow to recognize the presence of caregivers in their workforces, mainly because employed caregivers are reluctant to disclose their burdens and stress for fear of losing a job or other negative outcomes. To stem the high costs, employers need to determine the prevalence of caregiving among their employees and implement policies that provide flexibility and support. For more information and resources, check out the following websites:

How did Dana, Jim and Sherry manage their employed caregiver roles?

Dana reluctantly left her job, feeling guilty about her inability to give her employer 100 percent. Jim stepped off the fast track until his father passed away, and now he is attempting to repair his career. Sherry compromised by making herself available to her father at a designated time each day while saving lengthier conversations for weekends.

Looking for more information on how to support caregivers? Reach out to your OneDigital consultant or check out the blog post: Do Your Company's Employee Benefits Support Employees as Caregivers?