One of the biggest corporate diversity and inclusion issues facing us this century has nothing to do with age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, or ability. Unlike most diversity and inclusion issues, its source isn’t always an integral part of a candidate or employee’s personal identity. And someday, you could be one of the people discriminated against, or you could already be guilty of doing the discrimination yourself.
The issue? Family caregiving.
Within the next fifteen years, older people will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Already, 40 million-plus Americans are providing informal care to family members. If the purpose of diversity and inclusion is to create an inclusive culture in which people feel comfortable, connected and supported when they are genuinely themselves, and with so many people currently and soon-to-be impacted, there is reason to look at the subset employee group of family caregivers, and ask how we can better serve, embrace and integrate them in the workplace.
First, a closer look at the diversity and inclusion drivers and rationale of why family caregivers are prime candidates for consideration in D&I initiatives:
- Stigma and misunderstandings abound. It’s been the norm to use the blanket categorization “uncommitted” for employees balancing work with caregiving roles. They may bolt a little too quickly from the office at the sound of the lunch bell or the five o’clock whistle en route to a parent’s doctor’s appointment. They may be late to an early morning meeting because they had to drop off the kids (late) after changing Depends. Disengagement stigma and misunderstandings about how family caregivers are spending their time when not in the office abound since employees have fewer external matters pulling them in different directions and don’t know how the life of a family caregiver looks.
- Family caregivers are working a part-time side job. Caregiving has been compared to having a part-time job on top of your regular full or part-time job. With everything from medication administration to appointment scheduling and even cleaning and bill paying for multiple households, the list of external to-do’s goes beyond what we may immediately think of as “caregiving” responsibilities. Most hiring teams are able to admit: they wouldn’t hire someone for a full-time position knowing that they have another part-time role to fulfill. And yet, that is the very situation most working-age Americans will find themselves in shortly. We have to adapt to this reality.
- They’re hiding an aspect of themselves while at work. One of the commonalities between family caregivers and their counterparts in other traditionally marginalized groups is the concept of hiding an aspect of themselves while at work, also known as ‘covering.’ It could be as simple as the frequent and familiar Monday morning question of “What did you do this weekend?” Rather than share the not-so-fun list of the extra load they are carrying, many became adept at deflecting and flipping the question.
So how do we support these employees, helping them to carve their own interesting and productive professional path within our organizations? Here are a few steps to start:
Champion (and utilize) the skills they earn from this difficult care work
Family care is one of the most mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging engagements of a lifetime. The best organizations see these immense hurdles as part of the added, extra-professional value an employee brings to the table. I’ve seen employees harness the tools and structures they put in place during their family caregiving work, for all manner of objectives. They embody the key factors most organizations seek — they are extremely self-reliant, thrive in chaos and change, are results-driven instead of process-driven, and are generally careful about giving their loyalty away, lest they fritter out precious energy on an unworthy task. It’s time to put these gifts, honed in the refiner’s fire of life, to professional use.
Applaud proper use of benefits, and offer more
Unfortunately, I can’t count the number of times employees were labeled “uncommitted” for making use of a benefit, such as the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) benefit. The program is in place for a reason, and employees with the foresight to use the program as intended should be applauded, not misunderstood, for their ability to prepare and plan for time away that will ultimately benefit everyone involved. Understandably, workloads will need adjusting and shifting to make it work for team members potentially impacted. But this is much easier than an abrupt exit and can create a more loyal, fresh, and engaged workforce overall.
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Bringing in new perks, specifically aimed at these employees, is also a big win. Employee assistance program wellness workshops can be a major boost, with specific stress management and time management solutions that enormously benefit caregiving employees.
Increase awareness about this D&I issue
Communications and education about the fact that caregiving is a D&I issue is an important first step. Just as there are benefits and ah-ha moments in unconscious bias training, a little caregiving 101 goes a long way. A quick example, there are various caregiving types aside from “primary.” (Which for many, connotes a mental image of Florence Nightingale, bed-side, not a modern working professional.) Managers familiar with even basic vernacular, such as the different roles in caregiving (i.e., primary, rotating, shared, professional, etc.) are better equipped in conversation to support employees and encourage a proactive care/work plan.
We know that diversity and inclusion initiatives fuel corporate culture and represent far more than an HR function box ticked. According to McKinsey’s 2015 “Diversity Matters” report, companies in the top quartile for inclusion on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. By 2018, that percentage had risen to 21. Done well, effects are felt in team dynamics, office comraderies, and the bottom line.
If the family caregiving subset of your employee base isn’t part of your D&I initiatives, they should be. Inclusion changes the lens to one of compassion. It enhances companies’ ability to attract and retain top talent and acknowledges a caregiver’s unique and complex challenges. It’s time to take the first step.