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Employees are stressed caring for aging parents. How can employers help?

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A growing number of employees are caring for aging parents, parents-in-law and relatives while working full time. One report puts the number of employees caring for aging family members at one in six, while other sources put the number even higher — 73% of employees caring for older family members, with 80% of those employees reporting that they struggle to balance their work and caregiving responsibilities.

This balancing act not only has an impact on employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, it also has a significant impact on their employers. But researchers at Harvard Business School found that many employers are not aware of the extent to which caregiving responsibilities are affecting employee performance, productivity and costs.

Read more: Neglecting employee caregivers is a poor retention strategy

Only 24% of employers surveyed said caregiving affected employee performance compared to 80% of employees who said it impacted their productivity. One report calculated the cost of lost productivity due to employee caregiving at $33.6 billion per year. The researchers also found that employees were leaving their positions due to caregiving responsibilities, which increased turnover costs. And those who stayed on the job experienced higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Support strategies for employee caregivers

Employers can offer several resources and benefits to help reduce the stress and physical and mental health impact on employees who are caring for aging family members. These strategies can also decrease the negative effect that caregiving can have on productivity and costs.

  • Flexible schedules and remote work options: Offering flexible schedules and the option to work from home can help employees fit caregiving responsibilities, like taking family members to doctor’s appointments, preparing meals and helping with other activities of daily living into their day with less stress and less missed work time.
  • Eldercare information and referral resources: These services can help employees find eldercare in their community, connect with other caregivers for support and advice, and learn about financial, health, legal and housing issues they may face as they provide care for aging family members and plan for the future.
  • Self-care resources for caregivers: The stress of caregiving can increase the risk of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, migraine headache, gastrointestinal problems, substance misuse, anxiety and depression. Employers can help employees better manage stress by offering access to free stress management resources including exercise and meditation classes, caregiver support groups and referrals to online and in-person mental health providers.
  • Medical second opinions: Managing the healthcare for an aging family member living with complex or serious medical problems such as dementia, cancer and heart failure can be especially difficult, stressful and time-consuming for employees. Access to second opinions can help employees make informed choices about their family member’s care and provide peace of mind about their decisions.
  • Specialist guidance and support: Employers can offer access to navigators and advisors who can help employees ensure that their aging family members’ healthcare is coordinated to lower the risk of medical errors, inappropriate care and missed follow-up care. These services can also ensure that their medical records are reviewed and consolidated, which is especially important when people see several physicians. Navigation and advisory services can help employees research medical treatments for their family member, find and connect with experienced specialists and build a plan to address the potential progression of their family member’s health issues. Advisors can also help with appointment scheduling, insurance issues and problems with medical bills, all of which can be exceptionally time-consuming and frustrating tasks.
  • Expand telehealth access: By expanding employees’ telehealth benefits to include aging parents and parents-in-law, employers can make it easier for employees to be involved in their family member’s care, even if they don’t live nearby. Telehealth can also make getting care easier for family members because they don’t need to arrange transportation to appointments.
  • Subsidize back-up care: Consider providing employees with subsidies to help pay for in-home back-up care for aging family members. With this safety net in place, employers can decrease the number of hours employees are absent from work due to caregiving responsibilities.
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