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Why Benefits for Employee Caregivers Are Good Business

We’ve all seen alarming headlines about “The Great Resignation.” Some observers say it shows no signs of letting up. McKinsey recently called it the “quitting trend that just won’t quit.” And data confirms that the “big quit” is real.

In May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. voluntary quit rate was 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels. It’s hard to ignore numbers like that. And chances are you’ve experienced this recently in your own organization, as more top performers leave for various reasons.

What’s behind this surge in turnover? The pandemic forced us all to reevaluate what’s most important in life. Now, many are choosing to be more present for family while also juggling a demanding career. But the choice is especially challenging for those with family members who need special care.

This segment of the workforce is larger than you may think. In fact, according to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, 1 in 5 American workers also double as an unpaid family caregiver for an aging, ill or disabled loved one. The amount of time they spend on caregiving, in addition to their full-time careers, isn’t trivial. The AARP estimates that these caregivers devote an average of 23.7 hours a week to these tasks.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that employee caregivers are struggling mentally, physically, and financially. Nearly 60% are dealing with clinical depression and anxiety. Experts say they are stretched so thin that the snowball effect of caregiving will cause 1 in 3 to leave the workforce entirely.

New Insights About Employees as Caregivers

A new study entitled Following The Journey of Family Caregivers” commissioned by Homethrive, Home Instead, and Certification in Long-Term Care (CLTC) sheds more light on how employee caregivers are responding to the pressure.

Nearly 70% of survey respondents who identify as employed said it has been important to rely on paid in-home care because it helps them avoid leaving their job, or because it helps them concentrate better at work.

“I wasn’t surprised to hear (working caregivers) turning more to paid care,” says Eileen J. Tell, a Boston-area researcher who administered the survey. “They cited the importance of doing well at their job and the desire to maintain their job.”

It’s no wonder why working caregivers said they need paid assistance. For example:

  • 35% often provide companionship
  • 33% often provide transportation help
  • 26% often help with daily living activities
  • 23% often help arrange care
  • 26% often help make care decisions
  • 31% always help make home safety changes

Respondents also said if they received help coordinating care, it would take a major load off their already piled-high plates. Specifically:

  • 42% want coordination with doctors or care teams
  • 38% want assistance in finding service providers
  • 34% want help finding benefits eligibility
  • 34% want meal delivery coordination
  • 32% want recommendations for devices and equipment
  • 31% want help assessing home safety

Interestingly, the study found that only 6% of working caregivers receive support from an employer-provided benefit program to help find reliable paid in-home care for loved ones.

What about the other 94% without access to employee caregiving benefits? There is good news. An increasing number of forward-thinking employers are offering these unsung heroes benefits packages that include family caregiving options.

Why is this a wise choice? Employers gain in multiple ways. For example…

Business Benefits of Supporting Employee Caregivers

1. Restore Retention

When employees have an option to access the right kind of assistance, when they need it, they’re less likely to leave. They’re also more focused and productive at work. Offering this benefit can position you as an employer who cares about worker wellbeing on all levels—which in turn fosters a sense of company loyalty.

2. Rev-Up Recruitment

You want to attract the best employees possible. Offering a family caregiving benefit is one way to excel at recruiting because your company will appeal to candidates who value an employer with compassion, a concern for families, and a sense of community.

3. Improve Employee Wellbeing

According to Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends study, employee wellbeing programs are among the top five reasons why people remain at a company. Caregiving can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining responsibility. A family caregiving benefit helps take some of this burden off your employees and improves their wellbeing.

4. Increase Productivity

Time is money. And caregiving can take up a lot of time.

One employee might spend hours on the phone setting up doctor appointments for an aging parent, while another might leave work frequently to take a special needs child to therapy.

It all takes time away from the workday, decreases productivity, and increases employee stress. But with a family caregiving benefit, employees and their loved ones will receive higher quality support when it matters most, so your business productivity will flourish.

5. Revolutionize Work-Life Balance

A family caregiving benefit can drastically improve work-life balance. When employees continually put others’ care ahead of self-care, it can translate into mental and physical health issues such as exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. Those issues inflate your company’s healthcare costs.

When a caregiver’s mindset has shifted to a “life-work tilt,” career advancement, salary increases, and professional praise are important. But quality time with loved ones, the opportunity to explore passions outside of work, and overall mental wellbeing are also critical.

Leaning into this “life-work tilt” can have multiple advantages. By proactively acknowledging the needs and responsibilities of family caregivers and offering tangible support, you can set your organization apart. And when your employees find a better balance between work and life, they can focus better, be more productive, and stay loyal to your company.

6. Protect Your Bottom Line

High turnover is expensive. The cost often extends beyond investing in recruitment to replace lost workers. For example, institutional knowledge and team morale also suffer. In addition, productivity can take a hit, which in turn, can reduce innovation and growth. Ultimately, this negative spiral can prevent your company from reaching its full potential. 

A Solution That Helps Employees and Employers

Family caregiving benefits are a win-win.

They’re a win for employers because they help improve workforce wellbeing, retention, and productivityall while protecting your bottom line.

They’re also a win for employees because they help support work-life balance, mental health, and job satisfaction. 

As Eileen Tell explains, “I think it’s key that employers understand how important it is to family caregivers to feel like they don’t have to choose between their jobs and their role as a family caregiver. Employees may look like they’re not paying attention to work, but they really don’t want to compromise their job and they don’t want to skimp on their family responsibilities.”

Will Extended Parental Leave Ever Exist in the US?

The United States lags behind when it comes to parental rights. We’re on a shockingly short list of countries that offer no paid maternity leave and are one of just a few developed nations with no federally mandated parental leave.

This isn’t a good thing for workers or companies.

It leaves many people torn between health, family, and paycheck. For those who can’t afford to take time off, recovering from childbirth or adjusting to new routines can impact their performance at work. New parents who can afford not to go back to work after having children often don’t—leaving employers with vacant positions to fill.

It’s an imbalance that ultimately doesn’t have any winners. Here’s a look at what we’re missing—and the potential for change that’s coming over the horizon. Isn’t it time our federal policies were brought up-to-date?

Maternity Leave in Canada vs. the United States

In Canada, child-related leave isn’t just covered by federally mandated policies, it’s encouraged, and financially supplemented—even for the self-employed— through the federal Employment Insurance (EI) program. And often, depending on where parents work, employer-provided assistances adds additional monies.

Time off post-childbirth is split between maternity leave (up to 17 weeks maximum) and parental leave, to a maximum of 35 weeks. Basically, Moms get at least 17 weeks, and then can opt to continue and take the rest, or go back to work and allow the other parent to take the remainder. All the while knowing that their job(s) will be held for their return, at the same rate of pay with the same benefits.

In addition to the rather healthy “natural birth” maternity benefits, Canadians also get up to 52 weeks of leave when adopting.

The United States stands in stark contrast, where it’s generally up to employers to define benefits. For example, through the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are legally allowed to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for various medical or family reasons, including illness, adoption, or having a baby. There’s a catch, though: That leave is unpaid, and small companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt! If you work for a small business and can afford to take parental leave, your job could be filled in your absence. 

Companies Taking Maternity Leave Into Their Own Hands

Perhaps motivated by the competition for talent in the tech industry, the United States’ weak support system has led a number of companies to make their own rules:

  • Netflix recently announced new parental leave benefits: 12 to 16 weeks of fully paid leave for maternity, paternity, or adoptions. Salaried workers in Netflix’s streaming business can take up to one year of paid parental leave—on top of their unlimited vacation time. Employees can return to work in either a part-time or full-time capacity. They can also go back to work, then go on leave again at a later date.
  • Adobe also offers time off for new mother and fathers. Primary caregivers are allowed to take up to 16 weeks of paid leave after giving birth, adopting, fostering, or becoming a surrogate parent. This is in addition to paid medical leave, which gives new parents a combined total of 26 weeks of paid leave.
  • Twitter takes its support for parents a step further than paid time off. Mothers are allowed to take 20 weeks of paid leave while fathers or adoptive parents can take up to 10 weeks off. Once a quarter, it coordinates a meeting for new parents, where parents can ask questions about parenthood, exchange stories, and get help with leave information.

These family friendly policies leave me feeling warm and fuzzy—but they’re also vitally important policies when it comes to employee engagement and retention.

Millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce, are serious about benefits for families; in one survey, 86 percent said they were less likely to quit if parental benefits were offered. When Google extended maternity leave from three to five months and increased it from partial to full pay, the attrition rate for new mothers dropped by 50 percent.

Is a Change in the Air?

For years, many businesses have tried to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their employees. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was developed to combat this practice, but pregnant women still don’t have the financial support and job security they should. It’s a shortsighted waste of talent.

Hopefully, these new policies from companies like Twitter, Netflix, and Adobe will generate the momentum for change so desperately needed in the U.S. It seems businesses finally recognize that their most valuable assets are their employees; treating them well is good for both the company and the worker. As more and more companies realize this, we might see a snowball effect of better benefits for all parents and families.

Image credit: StockSnap.io

This article was first published on Huffington Post on 2/17/2016.