Caring for Caregivers in the Workplace
Caregiver support doesn’t always spring immediately to mind when employers consider how they can assist their employees, but the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted this traditionally invisible population. Whether employees cared for family members before the pandemic or as a result of it, it’s clear that employee needs have changed and now they’re looking to employers to support them.
Your employees are likely caregivers
The CDC defines informal caregivers as providing unpaid “regular care or assistance to a friend or family member who has a health problem or disability.” Caregiving includes childcare, elder care, and other forms of assisting and advocating for a loved one in need. For those who are caregivers, it’s about playing many different roles which can change day-to-day: health provider, decision-maker, scheduler, medical escort, advocate, and companion, to name just a few.
In recognition of the caregiving crisis, the CDC and other health organizations label caregiving as a public health issue. Forty million U.S. workers (about 1 in 5) fall into the caregiver category, saying they provide care to someone such as an ill partner, disabled child, or aging relative. Additionally almost 40% of working Americans are members of the “sandwich” generation that are supporting both their children and their parents at the same time. Despite how common informal caregiving is, many employers don’t realize how many of their employees are caregivers.
Caregiving is a demanding responsibility, and it’s almost always layered on top of an employee’s existing commitments. It’s a long-term situation that can span years and have serious implications on the mental, physical, and financial well-being of the caregivers themselves.
Supporting caregivers is good for employees and it has real implications for a business’s bottom line: a recent report shows U.S. companies spent over $13.4 billion in healthcare costs due to caregiver-related health issues. Recognizing the challenges that working caregivers face and creating policies and benefits packages that address their needs can substantially reduce costs for employers. A combination of resources, benefits, and healthcare access can offset these costs and create a working environment that is ready for a looming caregiving crisis.
How is this relevant to women’s health?
It’s not a secret that women, particularly women of color, felt the COVID-19 pandemic’s social impact more than men. Nearly 1.8 million women left their jobs during the pandemic in order to care for family members. Working moms and single parents who managed to maintain their jobs suffocated under the increased responsibilities of work, household management, and caregiving. An estimated 66% of caregivers are women, so this is, by default, a women’s issue.
Caregiving duties are often time-intensive, which often means caregivers are unable to spend the necessary time on their own health care needs. In a national survey, 21% of female caregivers surveyed had mammograms less often. A quarter of women caregivers have health problems as a result of their caregiving responsibilities and more than 20% of caregivers rate their own health as fair or poor, an AARP report found.
Did you know these stats about women who are caregivers?
- The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman
- 25% of caregiving women had difficulty getting medical care
- Women who spend nine or more hours per week caregiving have double the risk of heart disease
- Caregivers spend significant time taking care of others; reports range from about nine up to 20 hours per week
Caregivers and mental health
Mental health is just as important as physical health, especially for the caregiver population; one in five caregivers reports having constant stress in their lives and one in four admits the reality of caregiving is emotionally taxing. Everyone experiences stress, but there is a silent health crisis sometimes called “caregiver depression” because rates of depression among family caregivers are approximately twice that of the general population.
Anxiety also affects many caregivers. Managing too many responsibilities, feelings of not being in control of the situation, fear for a loved one’s well-being, and financial and healthcare coverage stressors can bring on various states of anxiety in a caregiver. In addition, caregivers often report job problems, health issues, lack of sleep, and little time to do the things they enjoy.
Clinical research in publications like The Gerontologist and the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences shows that women caregivers struggle more than men, reporting higher levels of depression and anxiety and lower wellbeing, life satisfaction, and physical health.
The financial impact of caregiving affects employees and employers
Informal caregivers are personally covering the gaps in care that broader policies have failed to address. As a result, both employers and employees bear the direct and indirect costs of caregiving.
- There’s a direct relationship between employee turnover and care needs: Nearly 1 in 3 caregivers have left a job due to caregiving responsibilities. An estimated $3.3 billion is spent by employers replacing employees who have left jobs because of caregiving needs.
- Leaves of absence and unpredictable FMLA: Finding a compliant way to hire additional headcount while keeping an open position is a common challenge for employers. Offering support for caregivers and building a healthy working environment can offset these costs, and prevent them from taking your organization by surprise.
- Productivity loss: caregiving is estimated to contribute a loss of $25 billion annually in productivity for full-time employees.
- Lost income: Fifty-two percent of caregivers lost income because they had to miss work and absenteeism due to caregiving. A third of women who are caregiving reduced their work hours, which has downstream impacts on their ability to retire and qualify for social security as they age.
- Caregiving duties often undermine career progression: unplanned absences and missed days at work can harm employees’ careers and eligibility for promotions.
When a caregiving employee is able to strike a balance between their work responsibilities and caregiving duties, they’re doing more and better work for their employer. Additionally, when caregiving employees are supported, they are more:
How employers can help
As the U.S. population continues to age, the strain on informal caregivers will only grow and have a larger impact on employers. The good news is that more organizations are starting to recognize caregivers’ needs.
Here are a few ways to create a corporate policy that supports caregivers and enables your organization to manage the caregiving crisis. Caregiving encompasses diverse responsibilities and duties, so it’s essential that a corporate benefits strategy cover the range of caregivers’ unique needs:
- Flexible work hours and work from home: flexibility and regaining commuting time can make a positive difference in a caregiver’s busy schedules. 73% of caregivers say they have to leave work early or unexpectedly. When working in an environment that doesn’t have the support or flexibility for these unexpected instances, caregiving becomes much more stressful.
- Financial wellness support: Nearly eight in 10 caregivers report expenses related to caregiving and the estimated annual total tops $7,000. On average, caregivers may spend up to 26% of their income on caregiving activities according to a 2021 AARP study. Employers that offer a financial wellness program may see improved financial stability and decreased stress in their caregiving employees.
- Asynchronous physical and mental healthcare: To help manage the health challenges experienced by caregivers, particularly women, employers can offer asynchronous virtual primary care services. Since there are no appointments, caregivers can use an asynchronous offering whenever they have a free moment so that they can take care of themselves while they continue taking care of their loved ones — and taking care of their job responsibilities.
- Assistance programs: Caregivers often find themselves in situations requiring legal counsel or need resources for respite and child care services.
It’s important that employers recognize that caregiving duties can endure. Benefits that accommodate episodic moments or crises aren’t enough to cover the unpredictable nature of caring for a human life.
About Hello Alpha
Hello Alpha is the only nationwide virtual primary care platform specializing in women’s health. Alpha focuses on women of all ages, delivering whole person care optimized for their unique behavioral and physical needs. By offering care asynchronously, meaning no appointments and completely at the patient’s convenience, we can provide the flexibility needed by caregivers.
Preventive health, treatment for anxiety and depression, weight management, and even visits with a registered dietitian are all included in an Alpha membership. For employers valuing diversity and inclusion, partnering with Hello Alpha leads to a more accessible, equitable system to care for the whole person — from part time and contingent workers to full-time employees and their dependents.
- Johnson, R.W. & Wiener, J.M. (2006). A Profile of Older Americans and Their Caregivers (Occasional Paper Number 8), Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
- Miller, B. & Cafasso, L. (1992). Gender differences in caregiving: fact or artifact? The Gerontologist, 32: 498–507.
- Yee, J.L. & Schulz, R. (2000). Gender differences in psychiatric morbidity among family caregivers: a review and analysis. The Gerontologist, 40: 147–164.
- Pinquart, M. & Sorensen, S. (2006). Gender differences in caregiver stressors, social resources, and health: An updated meta-analysis. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 61B (1): 33–45.
- Cannuscio, C., Jones, C., Kawachi, I. Colditz, G., Berkman, L. & Rimm, E. (2002). Reverberations of family illness: A longitudinal assessment of informal caregiving and mental health status in the nurses’ health study. American Journal of Public Health, 92(8), 1305–1311.
- National Alliance for Caregiving & Evercare. (2006). Evercare® Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-up Look at the Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One. Bethesda, MD: National Alliance for Caregiving and Minnetonka, MN: Evercare.
- AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving. Caregiving in the United States 2020. Washington, DC: AARP. May 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/ppi.00103.001