Why Employers Need to Expand the Definition of ‘Caregiver’

Does today’s “modern family” mean that the definition of family caregiving should be expanded? That’s the consensus of a new report from a caregiver-support program for employers and health plans.

Torchlight recently released its first annual report on the challenges facing modern caregivers, based on data from the more than 1 million employees at member organizations. Among its findings, the report documents the need for employers to take a more holistic approach to addressing the rapidly changing and expanding needs of its caregiver employees.

According to 2015 data from the National Alliance for Caregiving, 43.5 million adults provided unpaid care to a child or adult in the previous year, 20 percent of whom worked. Of that population, 70 percent reported difficulties balancing both roles. Research from AARP suggested that American caregivers spend 24 hours per week on caregiving responsibilities, and more than half of them work full-time. In its own reporting, Torchlight found that these stats may not give the full picture of the problem–as traditional caregiving is often defined as relating to a person’s disability or medical diagnosis. That could prompt some not to identify as caregivers, even though they’re challenged by significant work and home obligations–such as a working parent of a young child who is having trouble keeping up with classwork, or someone questioning whether his or her aging parent should still be driving.

In analyzing data from covered Torchlight employees, the company found that the top stressors facing caregivers of aging adults were medical issues, their own need for self-care and finances, while those caring for children were most concerned about providing them adequate attention, their social skills and their ability to learn. These ideas are compounded by evolving societal issues–as our increasingly fast-paced world, powered by technology, ramps up the stress felt by all populations. Cyberbullying, gaming addiction and the impact of social media on learning and social skills are all evolving areas affecting modern caregivers.

“Employers better engage their workforce by expanding the definition of caregiving to include ‘modern’ day-to-day challenges, in addition to more traditional needs,” says Torchlight founder and CEO Adam Goldberg.

Along those lines, the Torchlight research advises against a one-size-fits-all approach to designing corporate-caregiving programs. Seventy-eight percent of employees in Torchlight’s report, for instance, said they wanted structured assistance getting their initial caregiving needs addressed, but would then want to navigate on their own; 11 percent of users wanted to find caregiving answers on their own, while the same percentage wanted ongoing assistance. Most caregivers surveyed preferred to receive resources and information when taking short breaks throughout the day and were most interested in receiving articles, videos and webinars related to their caregiving responsibilities.

Keeping clued in to how the employee population is using a caregiving program, Goldberg adds, can help employers structure a meaningful benefits package that speaks to the particular needs of their workforce.

“Employers optimize benefits planning by gaining unprecedented insight through user-generated data,” he says.


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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.