Figuratively speaking, the number of articles dedicated to discussing the COVID-caused childcare crisis could fill a school library. But little has been written regarding the other side of the generational spectrum: Elder care.
When it became evident the remote learning arrangements imposed at the tail end of the 2019-20 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, for example. Meanwhile The Atlantic analyzed the rock-and-a-hard place scenario that parents deemed essential workers have regarding childcare – including the fact that 15 states lack free childcare options.
So, it is entirely logical that the most pressing caregiving topic would surround the struggles faced by employed parents. Whether those parents were working from home or not – attention would be paid to those balancing careers with child 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.
Comprehending the Employee Elder Care Crisis
Not surprisingly, the impact on elder caregivers has been profound. According to the Genworth Caring in COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey, 1 in 3 respondents unexpectedly became caregivers overnight. The average time investment was an onerous nine hours per week, a typical work shift, to provide care for an older and/or vulnerable loved one.
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 can also be very emotionally taxing: 49% of those polled in the same survey felt more anxiety and 53% felt more stress due to the added emotional toll of COVID-19.
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. Seventy percent of employees reported having missed work due to caregiving duties. And, 32% of caregiving employees had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities. Further, companies face increased health care costs incurred by employers for employees with caregiving responsibilities exceeds $13 billion a year.
Despite all this, employer-sponsored caregiving resources are typically limited in scope. They often, for example, take 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.
Bolstering Caregiver Work-Life Balance
The harsh reality is: COVID-19 has made the Employee Caregiving Crisis more urgent than ever. For their own sake, it is time for employers to forge pathways to relief. With 54% of caregivers juggling their caregiving responsibilities and a full- or part-time job, employers need to understand and meet the needs of their caregiving employees.
To help their caregiving employees – and their company – here are five tips for employers that can help elder caregivers thrive during these challenging times:
Communicate and Create a Culture of Collaboration
Seek 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 their challenges. It is also important for employers to initiate this dialogue. After all, employees may be hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons.
Enable Flexible Schedules to Strike a Better Balance
With new or added workloads, many employees may be juggling caregiving duties and work responsibilities. To help them find a balance their competing roles, offer flexible scheduling options. For example: Flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, etc.
Expect the Unexpected
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 in disruption adaptation. We can lean upon these lessons to improve business flexibility—without sacrificing overall job performances
Offer a Strong Support System
To ease their responsibilities, many elder caregivers are now looking for more support from their employers. An easy way to help is by providing guidance and personal support to those struggling. For example, share trusted links to information on support groups and related webinars. And post articles that provide solutions to caregiving problems. Self-care tools like wellness videos or meditation apps can be valuable. Also considered valuable: Financial planning classes offered by employers or third-party specialists.
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, and so they can focus on their work, employees may need benefits that can help them find care for their aging loved ones. 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.
Easing the Burden Placed on Elder Care Providers
Just as important for many, such specialist-driven caregiving employee 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. This specialty helps determine provider availability but while negotiating rates based on knowledge of typical care costs.
With specialist-driven caregiving benefits, employees no longer need mastermind a highly complex, multi-factor caregiving regimen.
COVID-19 has pushed employers toward a number of new norms. One of those should be taking better care of employee elder caregivers. And we can do that through increased employer awareness, systemic support, and customized benefit offerings.
Companies are currently repositioning themselves for optimal success now, and into the future. That makes this the perfect time to re-assess exactly what employees need to thrive within their very personal new normal, including employee benefits that cover the cost of elder care.