Here’s How Companies Can Better Care for Caregivers

“There are only four types of people in the world:

Those who have been caregivers,
Those who currently are caregivers
Those who will be caregivers, and
Those who will need caregivers.”

-Rosalynn Carter

Caregiving is no longer an “if” question but a “when” question, and very few of us are prepared.

As the Family Caregiver Alliance explains, formal caregivers are paid care providers providing care in one’s home or in a care setting (day care, residential facility, long-term care facility).  Informal caregivers are unpaid individuals (for example, a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor) involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks.

Informal caregivers who are otherwise employed are particularly ill-prepared for the impact caregiving will have on their work life—emotionally, physically, and financially.

What is informal caregiving’s impact on work?

AARP reports in a Fact Sheet on Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work that an estimated 61 percent of family caregivers of adults age 50 and older are currently employed either full-time (50 percent) or part-time (11 percent).

Employees are managing in a variety of different ways that impact their work (arriving late, or leaving early, taking time off, calling in sick, shifting from full-time to part-time when they can and whatever else they can do in order to help their family member).

For example two neighbors of our CEO—a wife and husband  in their mid-60’s—were approaching the end of their working lives with a reasonable retirement plan including a second home, travel and hobbies. Then this future was put in jeopardy as their four living parents lived into their 80s. Over a period of several years, each of these parents reached the end of their savings, experienced life-threatening illnesses, or simply had elevated care needs.

Long distance caregiving, and sudden and frequent trips to their parents’ homes, forced new unplanned challenges for them and their employers. This couple needed to continue working and sell their retirement getaway.  Negotiating flexible work schedules at this time of crisis was challenging since there were no policies to handle this situation.

This is a typical situation for many older working adults, and the onset of a crisis is not the time for either employees or their employers to first look at these predictable situations. Preparation for retirement is not the same as preparation for caregiving responsibilities, especially long-distance caregiving. Employees and employers benefit from having in place formal plans and policies to handle these situations.

How are companies addressing this issue?

A few companies are providing some benefits to such caregivers. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Caring for Your Company’s Caregivers, Sarita Gupta and Ai-Jen Poo cite L.L. Bean as offering limited support in this area: “When it comes to leave, the company augments FMLA with its own leave policy that allows employees to take up to six months in a 12-month period away from work, unpaid, to care for themselves or a loved one. On top of this, the company offers counseling on the myriad issues that arise around care, whether related to locating resources, dealing with financial or legal issues, or coping with grief.”

These are important and instructive first steps. But there continues to be a wide gap between what employees need and what employers are offering when it comes to long-term flexibility. Employees need the ability to continue working and to have what we might call episodic flexibility. What is often needed is a break from work for several days on short notice or a pattern of offsite work to allow sustained visitation—not a little flextime or the occasional work-from-home day. Policy changes that allow this level of flexibility will help retain valuable workers and provide the peace of mind employees need when their lives are temporarily disrupted by caregiving responsibilities.

'Policies that allow for episodic flexibility will provide the peace of mind employees need when their lives are disrupted by caregiving responsibilities.'Click To Tweet

Caregiving needs can be unpredictable; Preparation is critical

The Respectful Exits Longevity Agenda prepares workers and employers (everyone) for the life changes that workers will experience throughout their work life:

  • End the 65 “sell-by” date as a mandatory or informal “retirement age”
  • Practice career-long development and training of all staff
  • Encourage robust flexible scheduling for employees of all ages
  • Provide ongoing, on-demand financial wellness counseling
  • Implement and promote flexible and phased retirement option

Many of these changes require employer action. However, employees can also take control of their work lives with a new tool under development we call ThePhazerTM . The goal of ThePhazer is to enable employees to make the case for flexible and phased retirement. It is targeted to those 50 and older—a significant group impacted by informal caregiving—and so will be of particular value to employees eager to prepare for caregiving responsibilities and other pre-retirement work flexibility needs.

To help us build this critical tool, please donate here: ThePhazer.

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