4 strategies to support employee caregivers during COVID-19

Before National Family Caregivers Month comes to a close, employers should take the time to evaluate whether their benefit programs are meeting the needs of caregivers in their workforce. As the pandemic is forcing a rollback of reopening measures across much of the nation, many employees continue to find themselves taking on caregiving duties with limited support.

Prior to COVID-19, approximately one in five employees reported providing care for an elderly adult. Recent research by the Integrated Benefits Institute looked at the health and productivity impacts of caregiving and found that those providing care were more likely to need leave and not take it. They also were more likely to turn down a promotion. Strain–whether it be health-related, financial, emotional or physical–was prevalent across the board as more hours were directed to caregiving activities, and more than half of the employees fulfilling caregiving duties reported experiencing a negative work outcome in the last year.

Related: How COVID-19 is aggravating the caregiving crisis

COVID-19 has only magnified the caregiving crisis–one that has profound consequences on businesses and their employees. Approximately one in three Americans unexpectedly became caregivers overnight, and half of the caregivers reported feeling more anxiety and stress due to the evolving situation around the pandemic. Further, caregiving seems to impact women more than men. A look into a recent McKinsey report found that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19. In September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed a similar trend as four times the number of women than men have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic.

Related: Are we about to see a mass exodus of female workers?

Now more than ever, employers need to recognize and meet the needs of their caregiving employees. To adapt to COVID-19’s new norms and prevent the further loss of productive and healthy employees, consider the following.

Adjust workplace policies and benefits to extend beyond paid leave. Time off from work and flexible schedules to provide care are important components of a comprehensive benefits strategy, but they do not fully address the complexities of being a caregiver. Employers should also consider contracting with various vendors to alleviate the stress that comes from activities associated with caregiving such as financial planning, medical care coordination, childcare and more. Several concierge-based solutions are available to provide an array of resources that can help enhance work-life balance for those that have taken caregiving as their second occupation.

Increase awareness of available resources. Now with a multitude of information and changes occurring both within and outside the workplace, employers should have well-planned communications and a proactive stance on ensuring employees are aware of the available programs to support their needs.

Gather a better understanding of your employees’ needs and respond accordingly. Employers should directly ask their employees what is important and needed. Gaining this knowledge will help employers understand what benefits would be of most value during this time of crisis.

Adapt to disruptions and emergencies. COVID-19 has changed many things for employers and employees alike and will continue to do so well into 2021. Build in more time for projects, train managers to see red flags, get in front of the complexities of caregiving and have continuity plans tailored by a team to keep things going when employees need to take a leave of absence. It also is important to have empathy and flexibility around allowing employee caregivers to address their responsibilities without feeling like they need be on call or sacrifice their time or health.

Employers have a critical role to play amid both the COVID-19 and caregiving crises. As companies pivot and adjust for optimal business success, their strategies must factor in what their employees really need in the new normal where separation between home and work life has increasingly blurred.

Click HERE to take HRE‘s What’s Keeping HR Up at Night? survey.

Nicole Nicksic
Nicole Nicksic, PhD, is research lead at the Integrated Benefits Institute.