Workers stressed by family responsibilities are often reluctant to share details of their personal lives with co-workers or ask their employer for help. Yet research has shown that more than one in six working Americans provides temporary or ongoing care to a family member. Sixty-four percent of people who care for loved ones with dementia are also employed.
The number of workers with caregiving responsibilities is going to grow in coming years. Population demographics indicate that by the year 2030, six out of every 10 working Americans will have family caregiving responsibilities that extend beyond caring for their own children. Companies that begin planning increases in family caregiving responsibilities among the workforce will be in a better position to attract and retain quality employees both now and in the future.
Who Are Caregivers in Your Workplace?
A caregiver can be anyone who takes time to assist someone who is unable to accomplish daily tasks without help. Many working caregivers provide assistance with arranging appointments, shopping, providing transportation, paying bills, monitoring medications, and doing household cleaning or yard maintenance. Often it is these seemingly simple tasks that can be the beginning of a longer-term caregiving role. Caregiving usually becomes more challenging and stressful over time, especially when caring for someone with dementia.
Generally, caregiving by employed individuals is seen as a responsibility that mostly falls to female employees, but that perception is incorrect. Of all working adults providing care for someone over the age of 50, more than half are men. According to a 2014 article in Health Advocate, an online survey of almost 1400 employees from three Fortune 500 companies found that:
- Male caregivers are performing the same tasks as females (such as managing medications, grocery shopping and transportation to medical appointments and other errands).
- Men are less likely to discuss caregiving issues with co-workers, making it difficult for managers to become aware of the employee's caregiving responsibilities and the role they may be having in work performance.
- More men than women report having to forgo work-related travel.
- Two-thirds of male caregivers were unaware of available corporate eldercare benefits.
Regardless of whether an employee is male or female, many who are providing care do not realize that they are, in fact, caregivers. Instead, they consider themselves husbands, wives, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors just doing what they are expected to do. As a result, they may not be seeking out and taking advantage of resources that could help them in this caregiving role.
Understanding the Needs of Working Caregivers
When caring for a person with dementia, the need for assistance and the amount of time required intensifies as the disease progresses. An employee may not necessarily live with the person they are caring for but still provide several hours of care each day. For those who live with the person with dementia, the demands are even greater. Caregivers often must be available day and night, providing everything that their loved one needs. Without exception, caregiving adds stress to a person's life. This can mean functioning on too little sleep, which leads to physical, emotional and exhaustion over time. Dementia caregivers are at highest risk of developing their own health problems if not properly supported.
It is likely that all of us, at some point in our lives, are going to be called on to provide care for a family member or friend. Family caregivers rarely receive financial compensation, and they often lack emotional support from others. With some simple steps, businesses can position themselves to provide positive reinforcement and influence in the lives of employees during challenging times. Employers who understand and support their staff during difficult personal times earn the gratitude and loyalty of employees.
Surveying employees is one way to learn how much family caregiving responsibilities are affecting your workforce. Managers and human resources departments can register for a free service that allows them to anonymously survey employees about caregiving needs. Developed by the UW-Extension, the survey provides employers with an individualized executive summary of the needs among people in their organization. It also provides a second, more in-depth report which includes suggestions for developing strategies for supporting and retaining quality employees at risk of developing caregiver stress or leaving the company due to conflicting responsibilities.
Options to Support Working Caregivers
A key way to assist your employees is to provide education about existing resources. Information can be provided through existing employee assistance programs and human resource departments or through any mechanism that a business uses to share information with employees. Some possibilities include:
- Informing employees about resources and educational opportunities available in the community, such as support groups and other caregiver support programs. See the resources section of this toolkit for more information about Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), which provide information and assistance in locating resources in every county.
- Offering educational programs during lunch or at health and wellness events. Guest presenters may often be arranged through the ADRCs, the Alzheimer's Association, the Alzheimer's and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, or local caregiver coalitions at no cost.
- Publicizing and encouraging employees to use existing supports and resources made available through your company. Some employees may forget that resources are available, even if they receive notice of the benefit during orientation. Reminders are helpful.
- Hosting caregiver support groups in the workplace, or providing space for an existing group to meet at a time that is convenient for employees.
- A sample letter employers can use to provide information and resources to their employees.
in the Workplace
Approaches that some employers have taken to provide support for working caregivers and help them continue to serve as productive members of the workforce include the following:
- Suggesting that a caregiving employee contact the Alzheimer's Association or Alzheimer's and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, and also share the online resources included in this guide.
- Offering a private space to make phone calls to check on a loved one and make arrangements.
- Providing the ability to use Skype™ or other remote video connections to attend appointments and care-related meetings so that employees do not have to leave the office to participate.
- Providing the opportunity for open discussion about the challenges of caring for aging parents and other loved ones. This could be done peer-to-peer, or supervisor-to-employee.
- Making leave and benefit options known to new hires as a matter of policy.
- When applicable, steering an employee who requests leave associated with caregiving towards related resources, for example:
- Family Medical Leave Act
- Offering options related to flextime, telecommuting and job-sharing, or the use of paid and unpaid leave to cover time needed for caregiving responsibilities.
- Creating an employee leave sharing policy, in which employees can choose to donate a portion of their leave time to co-workers.
Operation Stronger Together is an initiative of the Alzheimer’s Association, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. The initiative strives to connect family caregivers of people with dementia to education and resources that can help them remain productive members of their families, society and workplaces. Visit the Operation Stronger Together web pages to see more about this initiative in Southeastern Wisconsin (http://www.alz.org/sewi/in_my_community_64273.asp).