Commentary: Employees today are called upon by organizations to increase productivity and produce high-quality products and services in ways they haven’t had to in the past. Many are connected to work at all times of the day and night through smartphones and other devices.

Add to this the fact that 43.5 million people in the U.S. are unpaid caregivers for an adult or child. And of that group, more than 34 million provided unpaid care to an adult 50 years old or older.

For this employee/caregiver group, there’s often not enough hours in the day to do good work and good caregiving. Being an employee/caregiver comes at a price for both businesses and employees.

Also see:EAP top mental health program offered by employers.”

Employee/caregivers never work from 9-5 – that’s an idle daydream. Caregivers get little downtime, spending on average 24 hours a week providing care for a loved one. In addition to a loss of free time, caregivers are impacted in many ways themselves with poor health, financial strain and lack of help.

Twenty-two percent of caregivers, most of whom are women, say their health is worse as a result of providing care. Many simply don’t have the time to care for themselves and others. Negative health effects multiply as caregivers ignore their own health issues. Anxiety and depression often increases, as well. The toll is physical and psychological.

The financial strain comes not only because the care is unpaid, but because the caregivers many times support a child or grandchild in the home, as well. Approximately 28% of caregivers fall into this latter category. Of those in the former group, 18% say they experienced a financial issue due to caring for another person.

Of those who are caregivers, one in three report they have no help at all, paid or unpaid.

Also see:Taking care of caregivers.”

How does this impact business? Turns out six in 10 caregivers are employed and of those more than half work full-time.

How employers can help

Employers can help working caregivers through a variety of programs that benefit business and employee/caregivers. Using these programs has several benefits by helping employees focus on work and improve productivity.

While legal advice and mental health services have long been a part of employee assistance programs, caregiver assistance has been less so, though it is increasing for forward-looking businesses.

Caregiver EAP benefits often include care coordination services for aging adults, emotional support (including counseling services) and legal services, such as wills, estate planning and medical durable power of attorney.

Less formal caregiver programs may include flexible schedules and access to community resources.

Also see:New benefit offers education help to parents of special-needs children.”

Whether the program is a formal EAP or an informal list of services and updated policies, all help meet the needs of employee/caregivers. Which in turn assists in improving life balance and productivity.

While these benefits help employees and employers, other benefits are decidedly focused on improving a business’ reputation within the community and among prospective employees. Businesses offering these types of benefits may see lower attrition due to employees quitting to provide full-time care and may experience an increase in employee loyalty.

As the older population in the U.S. continues to increase, more and more employees will become caregivers for aging loved ones or friends. Getting ahead of the curve is beneficial for business and employees with the potential of aiding both over the long term.

Maureen Hewitt is president and chief executive officer at InnovAge, a provider of health and wellness services for older adults based in Denver. With more than 20 years of leadership at for-profit and non-profit health care organizations, Hewitt leads InnovAge, which provides essential services and support for aging adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Hewitt has many years of experience leading skilled nursing/sub-acute care facilities; and acute care and rehabilitation hospitals. 

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