More than 21% of Americans are caregivers — an estimated 53 million adults, according to AARP. Yet not enough employers are focused on the impact that caregiving responsibilities have on the performance of their workforce.
Balancing life responsibilities with a career presents many challenges. Today’s workforce is trying to manage healthcare, finances, work, children, aging loved ones, and more. Sure enough, we recently saw the tremendous pressure that Covid-19 put on families trying to negotiate homeschooling with child and parental care. The disastrous effect pushed an estimated 3 million women out of the U.S. workforce.
Despite the growing number of employee caregivers, a Harvard Business School Report states the following:
“Many employers remain strangely unaware of the magnitude and impact of the changing demographics of care and their economic consequences. Surveys of U.S. employer and employee attitudes about caregiving reveal that there is a gross misalignment between what companies currently provide and what employees need.”
Even in the face of a growing need — and demand — for employee benefits that support caregivers, many employers either do not offer those benefits or are not communicating about those benefits. If this continues, that “gross misalignment” between what workers need and what employers offer will only grow.
The Big Disconnect
A recent survey by Homethrive, which surveyed caregivers who worked outside the home and also provided care for aging loved ones, further confirms the trend regarding the need for caregiving benefits. The vast majority of respondents (84%) said they would be interested in company benefits that provided them with resources, guidance, or support for caregiving. At the same time, 79% of respondents say they do not have access to — or knowledge of — any benefits that would support their elderly caregiving responsibilities.
What’s more, nearly 40% of respondents said that their supervisor is not aware of their caregiving responsibilities outside of work or were not sure if their supervisor was aware. Sadly, this isn’t surprising given that 84% of respondents said they have not been surveyed by their employer to find out what kind of outside caregiving responsibilities they have.
The reality is that employers are not widely aware of, nor focused on, how the demands of caregiving responsibilities impact their workforce and its performance. The irony is, many adults who provide this kind of support don’t think of themselves as “caregivers.” But they nonetheless experience stress, grief, and other difficult emotions that can interfere with work responsibilities.
The Homethrive survey also found that 43% of respondents are distracted, worried, or focused on caregiving while they are supposed to be working five or more hours per week. Meanwhile, 20% are distracted at work more than nine hours per week.
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Additionally, only one-third of respondents said their supervisor had noticed a change in them because it was “impacting their performance” or because they were “noticeably under stress.” Indeed, over half of respondents indicated that their supervisors were either “not” or only “somewhat understanding” of their caregiving responsibilities.
The hidden caregiver crisis we face impacts employees and companies alike. Unfortunately, the significant misalignment between what employees need and what companies provide in terms of caregiving support and benefits, exemplifies that crisis. The result is that companies are incurring millions of dollars in hidden costs through employee mental health issues, turnover, and substantial productivity costs.
But there may be some good news on the horizon. A survey from earlier this year found that more than three quarters of employer respondents indicated that caregiving will be an increasingly important issue for their employees over the next five years.
Let’s hope so. Companies that claim to be focused on supporting and retaining good employees must acknowledge and evaluate how caregiving responsibilities impact their people. When HR teams are creating benefit portfolios, selecting the right caregiver benefit should be near the top of the list.