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Caring at Work: Tips for employers

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 7th, 2008

John, a dedicated employee, doesn’t linger at the coffee pot, but grabs a cup, black, and hustles to his first assignment of the day. For two hours he toils, efficiently, cheerfully, even though he didn’t get much sleep last night. Then he begins his next task, working faster now because another still awaits him. That job done, finally, he grabs another cup of coffee and heads out the door.

To work.

John is one of the more than 54 million Americans who is a caregiver for a family member.

Why is the working caregiver an issue for businesses today?

This problem, of near-crisis proportion, escapes no business. Nearly one-half of all caregivers work outside the home. At any given time, 20-50% of the workplace is dealing with a caregiving situation.

How does it impact the workplace?

A recent study showed 82% of working caregivers came into work late or left early as a result of caregiving and 55% modified their work schedules. Many take unpaid leaves of absence or use personal or sick days to provide care. They make long and frequent phone calls on the job, have more mistakes, accidents, conflicts, poor morale and health problems. Caregivers have more stress-related illnesses, utilizing the companies healthcare plan and adding costs to the employer. 11-12 % of caregivers quit their jobs early, increasing the turn over rate. Caregiver-employees often turn down promotions, overtime and assignments or take early retirement.

What is a “typical” employed caregiver?

The average age of the employed caregiver is late 40s and early 50s. Some are the primary caregivers for a sick or handicapped child. Others are taking care of a terminally ill spouse. Many more are tending an older adult, most often a parent or an in-law, while raising their own children. This group, the “sandwich generation” is a growing segment of our population. Over 40% of families who provide care for an elder have children at home under the age of eighteen. Many employees are caring for a parent or family member out of town.

How can caring for a family member “long distance” impact the working caregiver?

Long distance caregiving can be equally challenging. Phone time and days off are regularly consumed by efforts to obtain care for their loved one in another community. Many workers take weekends and days off to travel, helping siblings care for a parent in another state, then they return to work, exhausted.

What can employers do to help their caregiver-employees?

Employers can make a tremendous difference in the professional and personal live of their caregiver-employees, as support from coworkers and supervisors is their greatest need. Extending compassion and empathy is your first step. Encouraging the caregiver to care for themselves is vitally important. Remind them to get regular checkups, to eat properly, exercise, and get adequate sleep. Suggest the use of relaxation or stress management techniques, such as meditation, visualization, biofeedback and yoga, and to take time out for themselves. Advise them to pay attention to their own feelings and emotions, and to seek counseling and support groups if needed.

Caregiving depletes a person not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Subscribing the employee to a supportive informational periodicals and magazines, or gifting them with spiritual, inspirational encouraging books for caregivers goes a long way to show them you care not only about their productivity, but about them personally.

What adjustments can be made in the workplace to support caregivers?

One of their greatest workplace needs is flexible hours and time off. This benefit helps all workers, regardless of their age or family situation. Other program considerations should include providing information about support services available, such as eldercare services, adult daycare, respite care, or home health assistance. These resources can be provided on-site in lending libraries with in-depth information about resources in a format that minimizes the time required to access them, such as web-based, printed, or video materials.

What support resources can businesses offer?

The National Family Caregiver’s Association, www.nfcacares.org, is an excellent start in accessing this information. Another great resource is the Area Agency on Aging, www.loaa.org. With the passage of the National Family Caregiver Support Program in 2000, all AAAs have a mandate to address the needs of family caregivers. Working with employers is an excellent and efficient way to reach out to them. Whether it involves a contract to provide services or merely provides information to area employers to pass on to their employees as an outreach effort, working in partnership with AAA is good practice. Trained volunteers are skilled in advising consumers about insurance matters and professional providers can give employees online forms and resource information as well as workshops to address specific needs of workers.

Caregiving employees are the ones most worthy of retention, as their determination and commitment apply to both their home and work lives. Supporting them is a win/win/win proposition. The family member gets care from someone who loves them, the employee keeps their commitments to both priorities in their lives, and the employer retains a dedicated, cheerful, efficient employee.

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