Providing care for a family member is a centuries-old act of kindness and of love that takes place primarily outside the workplace.
However, its impact inside the workplace is nonetheless significant, and often overlooked by employers. The majority of persons caring for a loved one are employed and the impact of their care commitment is often underestimated.
MetLife, in a 2010 study in conjunction with AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, estimated that lost productivity in the workplace as a result of caregiving is approximately $33 billion a year. This would include tardiness, leaving early from work, or even rejecting promotions that would force a caregiver to move far away from elderly parents.
The Hidden Costs of Caregiving
Employers do not always recognize the hidden costs of caregiving. The fact that the working population is aging means that employers have to realize they are likely to have a large cohort of employees who have increased responsibilities for elderly parents and other elderly loved ones. We have an older working population caring for an even older age group and that’s a significant hidden cost.
An estimated 17 percent of full-time workers are caregivers. Nearly one-third of all working caregivers are in a professional position. According to a Caregiving in America study, more than 73 percent of caregivers were employed at some time when they were caregiving. That is significant because the study also showed that 66 percent of employed caregivers have gone in late, left early, or taken off time during the day to deal with caregiving issues. Twenty percent of employed caregivers have reported taking leaves of absence.
In general, it is estimated that caregivers miss an average of 6.6 workdays per year as a result of caregiving activity. And, a majority of caregivers believe that caregiving has some impact on their work performance.
A Gallup survey indicates that 28 percent of working caregivers do not believe their employer is aware of their caregiving status.
The Impact of Stress
The impact of stress on caregivers can show itself in a number of ways such as muscle tension, impaired immune system function, increased blood pressure, sleep difficulties and lack of exercise.
A caregiver is at extreme risk, health-wise. And, when the caregiver’s health is compromised, the care receiver is at risk.
What an Employer Can Do to Aid Caregivers
- Remember: For most employees, caregiving is a first-time experience. Inexperienced caregivers may need help in knowing where to turn for assistance. Providing an organized support system for employees would be a meaningful investment for employers given the high percentage of working caregivers who would like to work more if their caregiving responsibilities were lessened.
- Provide flexibility. This would include flexibility in terms of work schedules, leave time, etc.
- Increase awareness of caregiving and its potential impact on a workforce. This can be done through involvement of the company’s human resources company, which can alert employees about helpful community resources.
- Utilize the EAP. Employee Assistance Programs should be promoted as a source of support, information and referrals to resources. EAPs can also provide emotional and practical solutions to problems. An EAP can be a source of information about the legal implications and financial repercussions of caregiving.
- According to a Gallup survey, one-quarter or less of working caregivers have access to support groups, ask-a-nurse-type services, financial/legal advisors, and assisted living counselors through their respective workplaces.
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