Addressing the Forgotten Employee Crisis: Elder Care

Steps to recognize and support employees struggling to care for aging loved ones.

Addressing the Forgotten Employee Crisis: Elder Care

It is only fitting that, figuratively speaking, the amount of articles dedicated to discussing the COVID-caused childcare crisis could fill a school library.

When it became evident that the remote learning arrangements imposed at the tail-end of the 2019-2020 school year would continue well into the current one, the full weight of what this would mean for working parents was expressed in headlines across the country. The Associated Press reported on the distressingly common instance of mothers being forced from the workforce, (1) while The Atlantic analyzed the rock-and-a-hard place scenario that parents deemed essential workers have regarding childcare—including the fact the 15 states lack free childcare options (2).

It is entirely logical that, given the unanticipated COVID-caused continuation of remote learning, the most pressing caregiving topic would surround the struggles faced by employed parents—whether working from home or not—in balancing careers with caregiving. However, this understandable emphasis on our children has diverted attention from a problem that was looming long before iPads became de facto classrooms: the challenges employees face providing care for elderly loved ones.

Understanding the Employee Elder Care Crisis

Not surprisingly, the impact on caregivers has been profound. According to the Genworth Caregiving in COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey, 18 percent of respondents were suddenly obligated to spend more time providing assistance to a loved one who is either older or in a vulnerable health category (3). The average time investment is an onerous nine hours per week (4).

Eighteen percent may not seem overwhelming, but it translates to tens of millions of individuals becoming sudden, unplanned caregivers. Many, of course, may have already been providing unpaid caregiving to a loved one, meaning the pandemic simply exacerbated an already time- and energy-consuming situation. Caregiving during COVID-19 also can be emotionally taxing: 49% percent of those polled in the same survey felt more anxiety and 53 percent felt more stress due to the added emotional toll of COVID-19 (5).

Fortunately, the COVID crisis may make some employers more aware of—and sympathetic to—their employees’ caregiving responsibilities. This awakening can’t come quickly enough: Research conducted before the COVID-19 crisis shows that many employers were unaware of their employees’ caregiving responsibilities (6). Seventy percent of employees reported having missed work due to caregiving duties (7). And, 32 percent of caregiving employees had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities (8). Further, companies face increased healthcare costs incurred by employers for employees, with caregiving responsibilities exceeding $13 billion a year (9).

Despite all this, employer-sponsored caregiving resources typically are limited in scope, taking the form of an employee assistance program (EAP) that may provide a limited range of services, such as referrals and access to potential providers via phone and/or online portal.

Educating Employers About Critical Caregiver Support

The bottom line is: COVID-19 has made the employee caregiving crisis more urgent than ever. And, for their own sake, it is time for employers to forge pathways to relief. Here are tips for employers (and those responsible for training and educating them) to help their personnel cope with mounting elder care issues:

  • Talk to employees and create a culture of collaboration. Try to get a better understanding of everyone’s individual situations. It is impossible to understand the breadth or depth of employees’ caregiving responsibilities without an open, honest discussion about it. It is also important for employers to initiate this dialogue, since employees may be hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons.
  • Offer flexible schedules and a better work-life balance. With the new or added workloads many employees may be experiencing as they juggle caregiving duties and work responsibilities, offering flexible scheduling options (flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, etc.) can help employees balance their roles.
  • Plan for disruptions. Build in extra time for important projects, and set clear expectations around deadlines, team communication, and client support. COVID-19 has given many employers crash courses on adapting to disruptions; these lessons can be leaned upon to improve business flexibility without sacrificing overall job performances.
  • Offer guidance. Caregivers are looking for more support from their employers to ease their responsibilities. An easy way to help is by providing guidance and personal support to those struggling. For example, share links to information on support groups and related Webinars and articles that provide solutions to caregiving problems. Self-care tools such as wellness videos or meditation apps can be valuable. Financial planning classes offered by employers or third-party specialists are available for employees.
  • Assess your policy options. To adequately adapt to the workforce’s evolving caregiving needs, employers may want to reexamine company policies and benefits. With COVID-19 creating a new normal, employees may need benefits that can help them find care for their aging loved ones so they can focus on their work. Offering attractive benefits that meet employee caregiving needs can help set a company apart—a tool to help attract and retain top talent, lower absenteeism, increase productivity and reduce turnover.

Such specialist-driven caregiving benefits allow employees to stop playing professional caregiving coordinator. For example, identifying and assessing provider options is a caregiving issue in which experience and specialization are highly advantageous, as it entails not only determining provider availability but also negotiating rates based on knowledge of typical care costs. With specialist-driven caregiving benefits, employees no longer need to be the mastermind and key orchestrator of a highly complex, multifactor caregiving regimen.

COVID-19 has pushed employers toward a number of new norms. One of those should be taking better care of employee caregivers through increased employer awareness, targeted training, and customized benefit offerings as companies reposition themselves for optimal success now and into the future.

REFERENCES

(1) APNews.com, Child care crisis pushes US mothers out of the labor force, September 4, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/ad57cb9e16746df766215301163a4f08

(2) TheAtlantic.com, What are parents supposed to do with their kids? September 3, 2020.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/limited-child-care-options-essential-workers/615931/

(3) Genworth Caregiving in COVID-19: Consumer Sentiment Survey 2020. https://pro.genworth.com/riiproweb/productinfo/pdf/624701-SD.pdf.

(4) Genworth Caregiving in COVID-19: Consumer Sentiment Survey 2020. https://pro.genworth.com/riiproweb/productinfo/pdf/624701-SD.pdf.

(5) Genworth Caregiving in COVID-19: Consumer Sentiment Survey 2020. https://pro.genworth.com/riiproweb/productinfo/pdf/624701-SD.pdf.

(6) Harvard Business School, “The Caring Company,” January 2019. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/The_Caring_Company.pdf

(7) Genworth Beyond Dollars Study 2018. https://pro.genworth.com/riiproweb/productinfo/pdf/282301.pdf.

(8) Harvard Business School, “The Caring Company,” January 2019. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/The_Caring_Company.pdf

(9) Family Caregiver Alliance. National Center on Caregiving. 2015. https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-work-and-caregiving. Accessed March 20, 2020.

Larry Nisenson is the senior vice president, chief commercial officer for Genworth U.S. Life Insurance Segment, including CareScout Caregiver Support Services, a program designed to provide expert guidance and personal support for those struggling to find the right help for their loved ones. The program leverages a network of 100,000-plus healthcare professionals and facilities nationwide to provide employees unlimited access to personalized care advice and help finding suitable care solutions for their aging loved ones.