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Corporate America Steps Up to Support Employee Caregivers

Every one of us will be a caregiver at some point in our lifetime, it’s simply a matter of when our number is called. Thankfully, America’s business leaders are beginning to recognize that caregiving responsibilities have an impact on individual work performance as well as the employee’s physical, emotional, and financial well-being. Working caregivers who suddenly face the burdens of caring for a loved one can often feel completely alone and overwhelmed, taking a toll on the individual’s absentee record and on-the-job productivity.

Corporate America’s executives can play a transformative role in these people’s lives by supporting employee their caregivers with unique benefits strategies – many of which won’t break the bank. The introduction of innovative programs not only preserves employee loyalty and motivation, but also improves the morale of the entire workforce.

Supporting working caregivers is a sound business decision.  In fact, according to a study done by ReACT and AARP in 2016, companies that offered flextime and telecommuting programs for caregiver employees saw an ROI of between $1.70 and $4.45 for every dollar invested. What’s more, a work-family human resources policy is associated with a share price increase of 0.32 percent on the day that the policy is announced. 

Understanding the True Costs

A caregiver is an unpaid spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor who plays  a critical role in helping a loved one with daily activities and medical tasks.

U.S. companies that fail to address caregiver issues pay the price: businesses lose between $17.1 billion and $33.6 billion annually on productivity, depending on the level of caregiving involved — $2,110 for every full-time worker who cares for an adult – and face higher health insurance costs. This does not include the number of promotions or assignments employees turn down because they require travel or relocation away from caregiving responsibilities.

For many, caregiving is the equivalent of holding down a second job. Caregivers help navigate health coverage, drive to doctors’ appointments, participate in therapy sessions, identify assisted living or alternative housing options, or provide other “behind the scenes” support.

Even when they are at work, caregivers can feel distracted by the growing and often unexpected list of duties that require timely attention or await them at home. They are often forced to take time off from work and careers to accomplish everything that needs to get done.

Approximately 14 percent of employee caregivers reduce their work hours or receive a demotion. Another 5 percent give up working entirely. Studies also reveal that this trend can be costly for business. Employee caregiving costs employers:

  • Up to $33 billion annually from lost productivity
  • $6.6 billion to replace employees who retire early or quit
  • $5.1 billion in absenteeism

Leading Businesses Offer Help, Implement Change

The National Business Group on Health reports 88 percent of employers have “expectations that caregiving will become an increasingly important issue in the next five years.”

In response to some of these national trends, a growing number of employers are developing ways to ease caregiver burdens with a range of programs:

  •       Flexible schedules
  •       On-site eldercare
  •       Long-term insurance for parents, in-laws, grandparents and grandparents-in-law
  •       Support platforms, counseling, and referrals specific to caregiving
  •       Out-of-pocket elder care expenses with tax-free dollars
  •       Access to subsidized aides for a relative up to 20 days
  •       Seminars on elder care issues are just some of the ways employers are supporting employee caregivers

Emerging companies are also introducing caregiver platforms that offer navigation, resources, support, telehealth options, referrals and other tools to help working caregivers plan for and manage these transitions in life. The list of companies that offer caregiver support benefits is growing, and includes Bank of America, CBS, Georgetown University, Cigna, Microsoft, Starbucks, Best Buy — to name a few. Microsoft, for example, offers four weeks of paid leave for caregivers with eight additional weeks of unpaid time. The new benefit applies to employees with a close family member suffering from a “serious health condition” as defined by the Family Medical Leave Act.

This year, Starbucks announced new benefits aimed specifically at workers with family caregiving responsibilities: paid time off to care for sick family members and paid paternity leave for hourly employees. More recently, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company announced that employees are being given expanded paid time off for critical life events including caregiving for seriously ill family members and the care of newborn, foster or adoptive children. The new, generous, inclusive family-friendly benefits are part of the company’s commitment to meeting the needs of its diverse workforce through an innovative, market-leading approach.

Cigna Corp. offers a new employee benefit called the Caregiver Leave Program. The program gives its U.S. employees up to four weeks of paid leave for employees caring for others, including child bonding, care for a seriously ill family member or qualifying military support.

Joining the movement of Caregiver Support

For those looking to address these issues as part of their benefits or well-being strategy, here are some proven strategies to support employee caregivers:

Offer paid leave for caregivers — Give employee caregivers time and space to be with their loved ones and help them manage that transition process. You might even allow your employees to utilize this time sporadically instead of it being a finite time frame.

Get creative with digital tools and resources — Simply providing PTO or leave doesn’t guarantee that the employee will figure out how to best care for their loved one while they’re away from work. Most first-time caregivers spend hours or days searching the internet for what to do next with little luck or clarity. By providing them with the services and tools they need to navigate the complexities of healthcare successfully, you help them mitigate the risk that they spend their time away spinning their wheels. 

Incorporate caregivers into your company’s culture — Make an announcement to your employees that your company’s leadership team understands this issue could go a long way towards building retention and loyalty in the group.  Many companies know this is looming on the horizon but have yet to make the investments to support their team. Be a leader here!

By identifying “family” as an important core value for your organization, incorporating community resources, and taking advantage of emerging business platforms, executive teams can more effectively create a cultural shift that celebrates and supports the lives of its employees — especially those who sacrifice so much to care for the ones they love.

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Michael Walsh
Michael is the Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Cariloop, a digital health and well-being company based in Dallas, Texas.