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What Employers Should Know About Working Caregivers During COVID

employees who are caregivers during covid

Your company most likely has employees who are working caregivers, those who are responsible for the care and wellbeing of children, aging parents or disabled relatives. Caregiver statistics are daunting – 16% of working Americans report caregiving responsibilities, with more than half working full time while managing caregiving. And they say it significantly affects their work. 

Caregivers report feeling like they have no choice in their caregiving obligations, have to make changes to work hours, schedules and time off due to caregiving, and often have problems with attendance, advancement and keeping a job.

The impact of caregiving to employers is just as daunting. Reduced productivity due to caregiving, including absenteeism, turnover and workday adjustments, costs billions of dollars. Additionally, working caregiving employees cost their employers more in health care costs than non-caregiving employees. 

There Was Already a Caregiver Crisis – Now It’s Worse 

One in six Americans were working caregivers, according to Caregiver.org. That changed to one in three practically overnight due to the COVID pandemic. Insurance firm Genworth Senior Vice President Larry Nisenson says caregiving responsibilities are now mitigated by fear of assisted living facilities and unexpected extra time away from work because of coronavirus challenges. More than half of working caregivers report more stress than their normal caregiving responsibilities since the pandemic hit. 

Caregivers report heightened anxiety for themselves and those they care for. This includes the mental health consequences of worrying about death from COVID, being isolated from lockdowns and social distancing, and restrictions on assistance which lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and unsupported. The pandemic has added burdens and fears of catching the virus and spreading it to the vulnerable loved ones depending on caregivers.

Related: How Employee Mental Health During the Pandemic Impacts Employers

Judy Woodruff of PBS discussed the caregiver crisis during COVID with Dr. Jennifer Olsen, executive director of The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. Dr. Olsen says caregivers tend to seek help when they are at their stress point, which isn’t optimal, especially now, and that’s why it’s important to provide as much caregiver support as possible, so they don’t get to the point of feeling overwhelmed. Once that point is reached, assistance is much more urgent and difficult. 

Enduring the HR Impacts of COVID19

What Role Should Employers Take?

Supporting working caregivers benefits employers through better employee retention, improved productivity, lower employee stress, and improved mental and physical health, which all improve workforce engagement and business success. Family Caregiver Alliance suggests the following practices to help working caregivers:

  • Don’t assume caregivers to be employees who are not committed to their work, but rather value their job performance.
  • When able, provide schedule support with options including compressed work weeks (such as 10-hour workdays), flex-time, telecommuting and job-sharing.
  • Offer FMLA (when applicable).
  • Train and educate managers and supervisors on caregiver discrimination and working caregivers.

Additionally, employers can support their caregiving employees with access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which includes counselors and other professionals who can provide assistance for working caregivers under stress and referrals for assisted living, nursing homes and in-home health care support.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that COVID has caregiving employees seeking help with an expanding list of pandemic needs. Jurist-Rosner, CEO of New York City caregiver support services provider Wellthy, says they’ve seen an increase in caregiving employees seeking assistance with finding help for heightened anxiety, getting home delivery for medicine and groceries and keeping aging family members safe and healthy while in isolation. Assistance with funeral arrangements is another caregiver need. 

"To safely reopen the country, healthy people need to be able to go to work, and sick people need to be able to stay home," wrote Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We know that will require scaling up testing and contact tracing. We overlook that it will require scaling up caregiving solutions, too." 

Being responsible for others as a caregiver without safe, affordable care and resources makes it hard for employees to get back to work.

addressing mental health as employees return to the workplace

Written by Laura Dowling, SPHR