Neglecting employee caregivers is a poor retention strategy

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Employee caregivers struggle to balance work productivity while looking after a loved one, but not all employers are willing to help lighten that burden — to the company’s detriment.

That was one of the key takeaways from a webinar hosted by the Disability Management Employer Coalition and The Standard, an Oregon-based financial services company. While 73% of employees have caregiver responsibilities, and 80% of those employees report struggling to balance caregiving and work — according to a Harvard Business Review study — not all companies offer caregiving benefits. A separate study by DMEC said that 20% of employers don’t offer caregiving benefits, nor do they intend to adopt any.

“This isn’t good because caregiving employees say that their personal responsibilities affect their work performance,” said Katrina Smith, a national practice leader of absence management at The Standard. “Employers are in the best position to help provide relief, often with programs they already have.”

The COVID-19 quarantine is stressing caregivers out even more, said Breanna Scott, director of business relations at The Standard. Stanford University is currently conducting research on how quarantine is affecting caregivers; they suspect anxiety and depression levels could increase, Scott said.

“The pandemic has people isolated and feeling alone — caregivers can’t seek in-person support for what they’re going through,” Scott said. “And if another caregiver in the household has an underlying condition, they have to quarantine themselves away from everyone else. That means the other caregiver is on their own.”

While Generation X is commonly called “The Sandwich Generation,” because they often care for both children and aging parents, the panelists said this generation isn’t alone in those duties. As millennials age and begin to have children, they’ll increasingly find themselves in the same predicament, Scott said.

“We’ll need more caregiving benefits as younger generations enter the workforce and become a sandwich generation, where they’re taking care of children and older adults,” Scott said. “That means these caregiving benefits are going to be valuable to many employees.”

Smith says if money is tight, thanks to the pandemic, employers should work to promote and educate employees about the benefits they do have. While less than half of employers provide benefits that are specifically for caregiving support, more than 90% of them offer an EAP, according to DMEC data.

“You may not be able to afford to provide your employees with child or elder care services, but your EAP can help employees find them, and connect them with mental health services to maintain their resilience,” Smith said. “Employees will be grateful that you’re acknowledging their challenges.”

Employers who are interested in offering caregiver services are encouraged to do their research and consult the experts or brokers to find the best fit for their organization.

But investing in new programs means nothing if employees don’t know about them, the panelists said. They recommend hosting webinars to educate the workforce about their benefit offerings while ensuring compliance with social distancing.

“We need to break this pattern of only talking about benefits during onboarding and open enrollment,” Smith said. “People are going to be looking to their benefits to find relief from the added challenges posed by COVID.”

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Employee retention Employee benefits Employee engagement Employee productivity Coronavirus
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