Several months ago, my world was rocked with the news that a small cyst on my husband Michael’s neck was the first sign of throat cancer. It grew overnight and was the first external signal from his body that something was significantly wrong.
What ensued was a frightening time of trying to figure out the best course of action for his treatment, how to get him to his treatments, how to help with his care, what his health insurance covered, what disability coverage did he have, could our finances handle the cost of his care, all while continuing to take care of my two teenage sons and hold down my new full-time job as a marketing executive. Some 160 days later, my husband has completed his grueling chemotherapy and radiation regimen, and we can thankfully now exhale and look to the future.
I am not alone. I am the one out of every six employees in the U.S. who is also a caregiver to a family member or loved one. I have had to go in late, leave early, and take time off during the day to deal with caregiving issues just like the other 22 million employed Americans tending to their child with special needs, a spouse, or aging parent.
In fact, after logging a full day of work for our employers, informal employee caregivers like myself are then providing an additional 29 hours a week of caregiving. Fifty percent of working women aged 45 to 60 who are also caregivers feel they have to choose between being a good daughter or a good employee, according to a recent Daughters in the Workplace survey.
While caregiving takes a financial, emotional and physical toll on employees, Ceridian found American employers are losing $38.2 billion in productivity annually. Lost productivity isn’t the only factor hurting companies’ bottom lines. Employers pay an additional $13.4 billion per year in health-care costs for their employees with caregiving responsibilities.
But I am also one of the lucky ones. Just 12 percent of employers offer tools or resources to support caregivers, and my employer is one of them.
Fortunately, many companies are now re-examining the work-life balance of their employees and what they can do to create the best environment for their employees. Here are some of the approaches that companies can deploy.
- Adopt flexible work-life policies. Employees rank “workplace flexibility” as equally important to them as their healthcare benefits. For many companies today, flexible work-life responsibilities can greatly help employees balancing caregiving responsibilities at home. Deloitte calculated that flexible work-life arrangements saved employers $41.5 million in turnover costs. Flexible work-life best practices include allowing employees to work from home a few days per week; to work a partial day in the office and finishing up at home; and to leverage technology for meetings and other interactions.
- Educate employees about the Family Medical Leave Act. Approximately 60 percent of all employees are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, however, there is a lot of confusion over it. Under FMLA, employees of all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees, are eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year to care for their own needs or the needs of a spouse, child, or other close family member.
- Consider adding paid family leave benefits. In the last several years, a number of high profile companies including Adobe, Nike, Spotify and Coca-Cola have expanded their family leave policies. Netflix now provides its salaried employees with unlimited family leave—up to a year at a time. And Microsoft, Facebook, and Deloitte have also broadened their family leave benefits to include caregiving. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of U.S. private sector employees have access to paid leave.
- Understand state family and medical leave laws and how they apply to your employees. If your company has employees in different states it is imperative you understand each state’s leave laws for your employees. For example, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are the only three states that provide both paid and unpaid family and medical leave, with New York to follow in 2018. These states’ paid leave programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and administered through each state’s disability program.
- Encourage the creation of internal affinity groups or employee resource groups for caregivers. By creating affinity and employee resource groups for caregivers, employers not only provide employees a supportive environment to talk with others dealing with caregiving issues but they also help build a stronger community for their workforce. HR departments can further support caregivers in these groups by hosting webinars and inviting expert speakers to address caregiving issues.
- Understand how your benefits package can help with legal and financial planning for employees. One of the most stressful areas for caregivers is helping their elderly parents get financial matters and estate plans in order. Many companies offer consultation services with attorneys, financial planners, or tax advisers as part of their benefits packages. Employers need to orient managers so they can recommend the right benefit to employees since they are often the first to find out when caregiving responsibilities affect someone on their team.
- Provide employees caregiving tools and resources. WebMD Health, Limeade, Benefits Checkup, Eldercare Locator, and the company I work for, Torchlight, all provide online tools and resources for caregivers that employers can provide to their employees.
At some point in our lives, we are likely going to be called to be caregivers. It just makes good business sense that the companies we work for, who truly desire to embrace the work-life balance, provide their employees with the detailed information and tools they need to help ease their caregiving responsibilities.