As we honor this group of unsung heroes, one particular subset seems to be largely overlooked
by Larry Nisenson
November is National Family Caregivers Month, a perfect time for employers to recognize and support this critical volunteer corp whose duties have become increasingly important amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And, with more than 8.9 million cases and 228,000 deaths to date, plus the impending public health foe, influenza, this “twindemic” is bound to make their job more difficult in the upcoming winter season.
As we honor this group of unsung heroes, one particular subset seems to be largely overlooked as America continues to battle the coronavirus and the economic, healthcare and personal challenges surrounding the nation’s already serious Employee Caregiver Crisis: Elder caregivers, defined as family members tasked with caregiving duties for aging loved ones.
Now more than ever, the 41.8 million unpaid caregivers are fighting to balance their self-appointed duties. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are currently providing ongoing living assistance to a family member or friend, according to the AP-NORC Growing Older in America: Aging and Family Caregiving During COVID-19 survey released in October of this year. Overall, 36% of current caregivers who started providing assistance before the outbreak have had their caregiving responsibilities increase as a result of the pandemic. Further, 28% percent of caregivers who employed an in-home caregiver have canceled that care due to the coronavirus.
Understanding 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.
Per the AP-NORC survey, many were already providing unpaid caregiving to a loved one, meaning the pandemic simply exacerbated an already time- and energy-consuming situation. Caregiving during COVID-19 can be very emotionally taxing: 49% of caregivers polled in the Genworth 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 for employees with caregiving responsibilities – a figure that exceeds $13 billion a year.
Despite all this, employer-sponsored caregiving resources are typically 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.
Bolstering Caregiver Work-Life Balance
The harsh reality is that 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 caregiver 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, since employees may be hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons.
Allow 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 (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; these lessons can be leaned upon 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 articles that provide solutions to caregiving problems. Self-care tools like wellness videos or meditation apps can be valuable. Financial planning classes offered by employers or third-party specialists are also seen as valuable.
Assess Your Policy Options. To adequately adapt to the workforce’s evolving caregiving needs, employers may want to reexamine company policies and benefits. So they can best focus on their work during COVID-19’s new normal, 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.
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 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 elder caregivers through increased employer awareness, systemic support, and customized benefit offerings. As companies reposition themselves for optimal success now and into the future, there is no better time to re-assess exactly what employees need to thrive within their very personal new normal.
Larry Nisenson is the Senior Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer for Genworth U.S. Life Insurance Segment, including CareScout® Caregiver Support Services, an innovative program designed to provide professional guidance and personal support for those struggling to find the right help for their loved one. Visit www.carescout.com/benefit.