We talk so much about the impact parenting has on workers and yet parents can affect a career too. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 39.6 million people providing eldercare in the U.S., and the majority of them are women. The average caregiver is female, married, late 40s, with a living parent or parents age 65 or older, and at least one dependent child. Caregivers report experiencing work-related challenges as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. Many women, for example, make changes to their work schedules in order to accommodate their caregiving duties. They may switch to a less demanding job, take an extended leave, or quit working completely.
These changes have a major impact on both the caregivers and their employers. Working Mother Research Institute reports many caregiving women feel judged by coworkers and unable to accept promotions. And a study conducted by MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving, shows women lose an estimated $324,044 in wages due to caregiving. Meanwhile, the AARP reports caregiving costs businesses $6.6 billion to replace employees who leave, approximately $6.3 billion in workday interruptions, and $5.1 billion in absenteeism.
In order to retain skilled workers and maintain a productive workplace, employers should view supporting working caregivers as a business imperative. Here are three steps they can take:
1. Create a flex-friendly culture. Managers and employees alike should receive some training on how to manage coworkers with eldercare responsibilities. This doesn’t mean tolerating missed deadlines and a lack of accountability; it means creating a culture where results take precedence over face time, different career paths and trajectories are supported, and employees are encouraged to report on what their deliverables are and how they’ll achieve them, not where they are going and how much time they sat at their desks.
2. Offer elder care referral services. Eldercare may seem like a private issue for employers to handle outside of the office, but when you consider the financial hit businesses take from lost work time, it makes sense to treat it as a workplace issue. Smart businesses offer elder care referral services to their employees. These services don’t have to be costly. Companies can contract with third parties, provide services through Employee Assistance Programs or create resource libraries and conduct quarterly informational session.
3. Provide backup elder care services. Only two percent of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management currently provide elder care backup services. But savvy businesses will examine whether offering subsidized backup care makes sense in order to provide workers with short-notice, short-term solutions when caregiving plans break down. Not only do back-up services help companies address the high costs of absenteeism, but they also address the hidden cost of presenteeism, a term credited to psychology professor and organizational management expert Cary Cooper. Presenteeism refers to employees who may physically be at their desks but are mentally distracted by stress, anxiety, and trying to manage a personal situation remotely.
As more and more employees take on critical support roles outside of work, support for caregivers at work must shift from a nice-to-offer to a must-solve.