Caregiving benefits: Expanding the conversation beyond paid leave

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The employee benefits world continues to recognize the impact of offering caregiving benefits in the workplace. More employers are introducing paid leave benefits that can be used to spend time with a newborn, or care for an aging or sick loved one.

Offering a paid leave benefit to aide those caring for loved ones should not be understated. But ending the conversation about caregiver support on paid leave would fall short of effectively supporting employee caregivers. From a caregiver’s perspective, paid leave should be the tip of the iceberg when offering support to caregivers.

More companies offer paid leave to caregivers
Research from Genworth, the National Business Group on Health and MetLife all confirm that caregivers in the workplace are facing challenges ranging from absenteeism, presenteeism and emotional distress to physical health issues and financial burdens. Employers are beginning to take notice and are trying to support their caregivers by offering paid leave.

Paid leave is a helpful benefit for any number of challenges employees might be facing. From caring for loved ones with serious health conditions and sick children to maternity and paternity leave and even mental health days, a paid leave program is the mark of many forward-thinking organizations.

For example, Bristol Myers Squibb recently demonstrated the flexibility of paid time off by extending the definition of family for their parental leave policy. Now, this leave policy can be used to take care of a spouse, child, partner or parent.

Facebook’s bereavement leave policy provides 10 days of leave to grieve the loss of extended family members and 20 days for immediate family, the company says in a recent white paper. These days can be taken non-consecutively.

Microsoft also implemented four weeks of paid leave specifically for caregivers with up to eight additional weeks of unpaid time. Considering all of the responsibilities caregivers assume while taking care of a loved one, time off to focus on the care is valuable, but it is not the end-all solution to the challenges caregivers face.

Why it might not be enough

Having to report a reason for time off acts as a barrier to many caregivers. Caregiving is an emotional matter and the details are often painful or embarrassing to discuss, particularly at work. Most caregivers want to be able to keep their work and home lives separate, even at a time when caregiving is taking over every aspect of their lives.

This desire for privacy is particularly important for certain segments of the employee caregiving demographic. The Human Rights Campaign notes that 20% of LGBTQ individuals are afraid to denote caring for their partner as a reason for missing work because it might reveal their sexual identity.

Caregivers may also feel pressure to remain at work and not use their paid leave. Underused paid time off is a common problem, especially in America. A study by the U.S. Travel Association found that 52% of Americans did not use all of their PTO in 2017. Another study reported that 18% of those who didn’t use their time off blame a heavy workload. Caregivers may find catching up on work too overwhelming, so they go to work stressed, tired, distracted or sick..

Even with paid leave, caregiving still takes a toll mentally, emotionally and physically. Time is always a helpful asset when tasked with taking care of a loved one, but time does not guarantee that caregivers will find solutions to their challenges while away from the office. Without proper support, time away from the office means more time for caregivers to worry about their loved ones rather than being present. If employers want to keep caregivers in the office without feeling preoccupied and overwhelmed, they should consider adding more than just time.

Organizations like AARP and the Family Caregiver Alliance urge employers to consider offering flexible schedules, on-site eldercare, counseling and referrals specific to caregiving and even access to subsidized aide for a relative. There are also caregiver platforms that offer navigation, resources and support to help take the burden of care coordination off of the caregiver’s plate.

With the addition of these and other benefits, employers have ample opportunities to holistically support the employee caregivers within their organization. Offering these resources in addition to paid leave will help relieve much of the physical, financial and emotional challenges employee caregivers are facing every day in the workplace.

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