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How employers can make life easier for workers who are caregivers

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Millions of Americans are taking care of loved ones, and they’re struggling. AARP’s Susan Reinhard talks about ways organizations can help those workers.

About 48 million Americans are taking care of loved ones, and the majority of those caregivers are also working, the AARP says.

Many employers are struggling to deal with the strain of their caregiving duties while also meeting their work responsibilities. Two out of three caregivers (67%) say they are struggling to balance their work and taking care of family members, according to a survey done by the AARP & S&P Global.

Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director of the AARP Public Policy Institute, spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® about the stress on caregivers, and how employers can help them.

“The first thing is to recognize that many of your employees are doing this work,” Reinhard says.

AARP and S&P Global surveyed 1,200 Americans who were offering more than six hours of care each week to an adult. Four out of five respondents (80%) said employers were more understanding about family responsibilities tied to taking care of children and less understanding about caregiving duties for adults.

Most of those surveyed said they generally felt like employers were supporting them in their caregiving roles, but some groups perceived more problems. About 1 in 5 (21%) of women said their caregiving duties were affecting their career, while 11% of men offered such a sentiment.

(See part of our conversation with Susan Reinhard in this video. The story continues below.)

Supporting caregivers

Some employees are often closet caregivers, and they are reluctant to tell their employers about their hefty duties outside the workplace.

“Employees themselves are often worried about letting anyone know they're doing it,” Reinhard says. “They believe they're going to be discriminated against, passed over for promotion, considered not a strong worker, if they have to leave early to take someone to a doctor's office, for example, or call in sick.”

Employers and managers can help by making it clear they recognize that many of their team members are caring for loved ones. Reinhard says managers can offer some help by sharing some of their own stories about being caregivers for loved ones.

Organizations can let their workers know “that this is a caregiver-friendly environment … I don't have to hide what I'm doing,” she says.

Employers also can help by letting caregivers adjust their schedules or work remotely, if possible, and “offering flexibility, as much as you can.”

Managers should also let workers know about company-sponsored resources, including employee assistance programs, family leave, or other benefits.

“Many people don't know their benefits,” Reinhard says. “So it's one thing to have benefits. It's another to make sure people are aware that there are these benefits. And then thirdly, that it's okay to use them. You won't be frowned upon if you use them.”

Employers should recognize that it’s in their best interests to help their caregivers. More than a quarter (27%) of the respondents in the AARP survey say they have moved from full-time work to part-time roles due to their caregiving responsibilities.

In addition, 13% of those surveyed said they have switched jobs because of their caregiving duties. So organizations run the risk of losing valuable workers if they aren’t supporting them.

Plus, other workers in the organization are likely to see if their employers are accommodating to those who need more flexibility to take care of loved ones, and they’ll also see if their organizations aren’t supporting good workers facing tough times. They could factor that in their own decisions about staying with the company or looking elsewhere.

“They need to retain their workers,” Reinhard says. “It costs a lot of money to keep bringing in new people, train them. That's not really a good business case. You should have productive, satisfied workers.”

Recognizing all caregivers

Employers should have understanding for workers struggling with caregiving duties, but some workers say they get more empathy than others.

Most of those caring for parents said they were supported at work, but nearly half (48%) perceived they were being discriminated against for having caregiving duties for a sibling. Perhaps surprisingly, almost half (45%) of those with caregiving duties for a spouse or partner said they felt discriminated against by their employer.

Employers often don’t recognize the strain on younger workers who are caring for loved ones.

“Younger caregivers are often dismissed,” Reinhard says.

“If you are the grandson, who is a primary caregiver, you are not recognized,” she says. “It's like they don't expect it. It's not that they're being mean, they just don't expect it. And yet, one in four family caregivers is a millennial or younger.”

Younger workers may be more reluctant to ask for understanding with their caregiving responsibilities. They may be in their first job, and don’t feel secure enough to ask for some flexibility.

Reinhard says the strain on younger caregivers shouldn’t be underestimated. Some may be delaying their own life plans, including marriage or career opportunities, to care for a loved one.

“I started using the term life interrupted … it's true for spouses and for people in their 70s and even 80s that are family caregivers,” Reinhard says. “But for these young people, it's really altering the foundation of their lives.”

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