How the COVID-19 era has obliterated work-life balance and transformed a nation’s expectations for care
COVID-19 has been a profound wake-up call for the realities of care in America. The wall between work and homelife has collapsed, revealing the constant worries and responsibilities that shape our lives. Long-term care facilities are not always proving to be the safe, social spaces we hoped for. And kids are still out of school with no unified return plan in sight.
The labor and logistics tied to care are largely unaccounted for in our broader economy and our societal narratives. This needs to change — and fast. Joe Biden’s proposed child care plan, announced in early July, further illustrates how timely and relevant this issue is for so many Americans.
Thankfully, many employers have stepped up to meet employee needs. We recently ran a national survey and more than 80% of full- or part-time workers said they have felt supported by their employer through the pandemic. Employers are recognizing the mental strain that can accompany caregiving, and its potential impacts on productivity. In that same survey, 68% of workers said their employer is aware of the impact that COVID-19 has on them and their family.
Our survey also revealed that one in two Americans have experienced an increase in caregiving responsibilities since the lockdown began in March, and another 43% are considering a leave of absence. To better understand the workforce disruption, we spoke with frontline care coordinators and human resources teams about how to think about care in the coming months. Here are the key takeaways:
Families are using this time to have tough conversations about future wishes. Before the pandemic, families often found it uncomfortable to broach important questions such as: How do we get mom more help with daily activities? How are mom and dad's finances? How can we take keys away from a parent or grandparent with dementia? With the possibility of another wave of COVID-19, there is now an easier opener for families to discuss these future issues. Employers can help facilitate these conversations by providing planning tools and counsel for folks who are confronting these situations for the first time.
Forget Florida—aging in place, with a technological assist, is booming. Older adults are opting to live independently and at home with the support of technologies such as adapted iPads, in-home monitoring, and prescription delivery. For years, there was a bit of disbelief surrounding the idea that technological advancement was truly going to change how people live in older age – after all, most of us had seen our parents’ attempts at sorting through the television remotes! But now our elders are setting up Zoom playdates with our kids and we’ve seen their reluctance towards technology replaced with the joy of connection. We now know how to set up an older adult in their home with a set of services and products that allow them to remain safe and social.
Aging in place assistance for our loved ones must become a standard component of the benefits employers provide.
Employers can’t just care about their employees when they’re on the clock. What even is on-the-clock in the time of COVID-19? Our daily rhythms have been totally remixed. The idea that employers can worry about their people in the office, solely during work hours, has long been a delusion. When workers are healthier — mentally and physically — they bring their best to work. And factors that truly make employees healthier can be deeply influenced by how employers show that they care. Employers should be thinking not just about a COVID-19 safe office set-up, but also about the benefits of reducing commutes, increasing flexible work hours, and providing mental health and logistical support for caregiving families. Seventy percent of employed Americans are concerned about going back to work due to potential exposure and existing caregiving needs. Employer plans need to be comprehensive, embracing the full breadth of employees’ lives and responsibilities. Making employees feel cared for is about more than just Taco Tuesday.
Just as World War II launched employer-sponsored health insurance, and a 1978 law provided a tax break on deferred income prompted the creation of 401K plans, COVID-19 will establish a new set of table stake benefits addressing employees' various caregiving needs. Companies that don’t embrace such policies will fall behind as top talent comes to expect them.
Caregiving is our collective duty — it’s no longer just on each individual, but on everyone, including our institutions, to do their best. If there’s ever an opportunity to rethink and dramatically transform our preconceived notions of care, on an individual and collective basis, it’s now.