Helping employees balance the demands of career and caregiving

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About 34 million Americans provide unpaid caregiving support to another adult each year — most often for a parent or in-law, but sometimes a spouse or adult child. They help with everything from transportation to appointments to basic activities of daily living such as bathing and eating.

These caregivers aren’t retirees or stay-at-home moms. In fact, they’re more likely to be your employees. Research from Unum shows 55% of caregivers work more than 30 hours a week at a paid job.

There’s often a conflict between job responsibilities and caregiving duties for both employees and their employers. The survey found 75% of workers have taken paid time off or called in sick to care for a family member. Absence or unplanned time away from work can negatively affect performance and effectiveness. In some jobs like nursing or retail, the ability to interrupt work or be absent part of the day can be challenging or not available at all.

Trying to balance caregiving with a career takes a toll: Unum’s survey found 61% of caregivers say they’re stressed, anxious or depressed, and 49% suffer from exhaustion. Another 44% report financial strain and about a quarter miss their own doctor’s appointments, have had their retirement plans impacted or feel stress in their marriage or relationship.

The good news is there are many ways business owners, HR managers and benefits administrators can support the caregivers in your workforce. Here are some to consider:

Be flexible. A flexible schedule was the most common answer when caregivers were asked what employers could do to better accommodate caregiving responsibilities. Explore the possibilities of offering flextime or remote working options.

Communicate employee leave options clearly and frequently. Use a variety of channels — emails, intranet sites, newsletters, staff meetings — so employees fully understand company policies.

Offer an employee assistance program. These programs can provide emotional, financial and other support to caregivers who may be struggling, often at no cost to employees.

Make health care convenient. Consider creating an onsite health clinic or tap into pop-up clinics to offer routine health benefits such as flu shots, vitamins, mammograms and other services.

Develop a mental health strategy. It should include preventive and early intervention mechanics to help managers detect employees who may be in distress or having trouble coping.

Consider enhancing your paid family leave policies. Employer-paid family leave was the second-most cited type of help employees wanted in Unum’s survey. Partner with a benefits expert to craft a policy that works best for your company and workforce.

As the number of older adults continues to grow, caregiving by workers will surely increase in the years to come. You can help your employees and your business survive and thrive by being prepared with plans and strategies that show you care.

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