Why employers are offering caregiving benefits
Companies that offset the burden for employees with medical and support services are likely to see higher retention rates
More than one in six U.S. employees has a secondary job their employer might not know about: informal caregiving for a relative.
As the older adult population in the U.S. is projected to nearly double in size by 2050 from 48 million to 88 million, employers need to expect that employees might be distracted with the financial and emotional burden of caring for a relative and are looking for support in the form of peer support groups, medical tools, flexible schedules and more.
In fact, 23% of employees are spending 41 hours or longer each week caring for a relative, according to a new report from the Northeast Business Group on Health.
“Many employees providing care for loved ones don’t think of themselves as caregivers but rather as ‘just doing what’s necessary,’ and that in itself can be an obstacle in adequately supporting those struggling with this burden,” says Jeremy Nobel, medical director of the NEBGH.
Meanwhile, employees distracted with their caretaking responsibilites have a big impact on employers, affecting absenteeism, productivity levels, healthcare costs and retention rates — factors that result in a loss of almost $38 billion each year for employers, according to the NEBGH.
“There’s a growing awareness at the risk caregiving represents for the health and well-being of the employee caregiver,” Nobel says.
So what’s an employer to do? Organizations, Nobel says, can help their caregiving employees in a number of ways, such as tackling company culture, facilitating access to logistical, legal and medical services and training managers to be more aware of the challenges.
For example, Big Four firm EY offers two telephonic peer support groups managed by its internal employee assistance program team. Employees can join EY’s caregiver group to share resources, information, ideas and experiences, according to the report. The firm also has a group to support parents of children with special health needs, where employees can address trends in care and parenting.
Employer-formed networks, such as EY’s support groups, are crucial for many millennial caregivers — the fastest-growing demographic — who might not have coworkers in their peer group to discuss these issues with, Nobel says. Employers also can offer millennials and tech-savvy employees web-based tools and services. For example, Prudential Financial offers Best Doctors, a physician referral service, to its employees and their families as a benefit, according to the NEBGH. As a result, 65% of the insurance company’s employees or their relatives using the service received a changed diagnosis.
If caregiving benefit services aren’t enough, flexible scheduling or leave policies can make the difference for caregiving employees.
While more than three in five workers in the United States are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, it isn’t possible for most caregivers to lose their salary. On average, family caregivers spend $7,000 on out-of-pocket caregiving expenses annually, which is close to 20% of overall income for many Americans, according to the report.
Some employers, like Big Four firm Deloitte and pharmaceutical company Pfizer, offer paid time off to take care of a relative. Other companies offer paid family leave that employees can use for maternity and paternity leave, or for taking care of a sick or disabled parent, spouse or child.
Above all, Nobel says, employers need to “make sure that the right set of support activities are not just available but actively communicated to the employees around logistical and emotional support.”