Business
Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace

By Tamesha Keel

In the article, “Family Caregiving Is a Workforce and Business Issue,” Nancy LeaMond (Executive Vice President & Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, Communities, States and National Affairs at AARP) poignantly stated:

Family caregiving is one of those important issues that will affect every sector — employers, individuals, government, nonprofits and communities. There are currently 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. today and they are providing unpaid care valued at $470 billion. [C]aregiving also has long been, and will continue to be, a business and workforce issue. [S]ix in 10 family caregivers are working while more than one in three are working full time. In fact, the average family caregiver is a 49 year old woman who works 35 hours a week and spends 20 hours a week caring for her mother. At the same time, almost 25 percent of family caregivers are Millennials and the average millennial caregiver is working a full time job. All this boils down to one key point-caregiving and work are the “New Normal.” As workers across all generations are facing the issue of caring for loved ones, employers need to respond.

These statistics, along with the tremendous impact of caregiving and its effects, become even more salient when demographics are examined. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 Report, women are more likely to be caregivers than men as approximately 60% of caregivers are female. There is also a higher prevalence of caregiving among Hispanics (21% or 7.6 million), African-Americans (20.3% or 5.6 million), and Asian Americans (19.7% or 2.7 million). In a prior report, it was noted that employed female caregivers may suffer greater economic hardship as a result of caregiving due to being more likely than males to have made alternate work arrangements. These alternative work arrangements included: taking a less demanding job (16% females vs. 6% males); giving up work entirely (12% females vs. 3% males); and losing job related benefits (7% females vs. males 3%). Similarly, the MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers showed that 10 million caregivers over 50 years of age who care for their parents lose an estimated $3 trillion in lost wages, pensions, retirement funds, and benefits.

This “New Normal” was something that I personally experienced when I became the sole caregiver for my mother in March 2012 after my father died. As her husband, he was her long-time caregiver and companion. Although my mother survived a massive brain hemorrhage and coma that occurred in 2000, she was unable to live by herself. So, she relocated from her home to live with me. Later that year, she was diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s/dementia. In 2013, she was diagnosed with stage four, breast cancer. Coping with the realities of these two, horrible diseases was the most challenging part of being a caregiver. Intensifying this experience was the fact that I continued working full-time in order to provide for my mother’s needs. Although I had access to a number of resources to assist with caregiving, the vast majority of caregivers are not as fortunate.

Consequently, more resources to supplement employee assistance programs and the Family Medical Leave Act are needed to support employed caregivers juggling rigorous demands because caregiving also negatively affects employers. In the 2010 MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs, the lost-productivity cost of U.S. businesses was estimated to be about $17.1 to $33.6 billion annually. With such a pervasive issue that will only become more exacerbated with time, creative workplace solutions are imperative. Some ideas include: additional benefits such as paid time off and flexible schedules; geriatric care resources; relevant programming; volunteer programs; and workplace planning with the goal of developing a supportive corporate culture and progressive job performance policies.

This blog post is part of a series for Paving The Way, a conversation about clearing a path for inclusion and diversity in the workplace. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. To contribute, please email pavingtheway@huffingtonpost.com.

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