“There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
- Rosalynn Carter, former first lady of the United States
With the average lifespan rising along with the prevalence of lifestyle diseases, age-related diseases, and cancers, Rosalynn Carter’s wisdom about caregiving seems just as inevitable as aging itself.
Statistics reveal that 53 million Americans serve as informal caregivers to someone who is aging, ill, or disabled. In Canada, 8 million people are providing care for their aging family members, relatives, neighbors, or friends. During the pandemic, almost 39% of Indian millennials were thrust into a caregiving role for the first time.
Worldwide, many of these caregivers are also part of a sandwiched generation of workers, who support both their children and their parents either financially, physically, or emotionally.
The impact of informal caregiving
All these statistics indicate the intense amount of pressure caregivers experience, which impacts their ability to cope at work. At least 71% of them have felt lonely or isolated in the workplace, as they struggle to manage time and drop out of social engagements to prioritize caregiving.
A work culture that overlooks these pressures can turn away caregiver-employees and their valuable skills, experience, and knowledge, unless it better supports them as managers, employees, and Talent & Culture experts.
How can we build a caregiver-supportive workplace culture?
- Bring flexibility to the table
Christina Irving from the Family Caregiver Alliance points out that most caregivers request for flexible schedules. They may need to take time off in the middle of the day to take their wards to doctor’s appointments or help them with routine functions. Supporting their ability to manage work with caregiving responsibilities is not just a question of time flexibility – helping them tailor their responsibilities and workload (role flexibility) and enabling them to work from spaces and locations that are suited to their needs is just as important.
- Encourage honest conversations about caregiving
Many caregivers feel uncomfortable explaining their work-life situation to others at work. They, just like other vulnerable groups that firms try to reach out to with DEI initiatives, engage in “covering” behavior to obscure their caregiving-related concerns, activities, and feelings in order to fit in and look more “career-oriented”. Managers can change this trend by talking about the value of caregiving and modeling appropriate conversations around bringing our authentic selves to work and discussing personal issues that can hinder wellbeing.
- Understand diversity among caregivers and respond accordingly
While childcare is the most recognized form of caregiving that employees engage in, unfortunately, many firms and managers don’t look beyond this when formulating caregiving policies. However, HBR’s “The Caring Company” report noted that 33% of departing employees cited taking care of an elderly person with daily living needs as a reason for leaving their job. Another 25% cited leaving their job to care for an ill or disabled spouse, partner, or family member. This oversight means that managers and peers often miss opportunities to support caregivers with paid time off, external caregiving services, added flexibility, coaching and counseling, or even empathetic conversations.
- Set up ERGs and signpost caregivers towards the right resources
Employers and managers cannot hope to address every one of their caregiver-employees’ concerns unless they are experts in each caregiving area. Instead, it helps to signpost your caregiver-employees towards information, resources, and support from support groups, experts, carer networks, local authorities, and counseling services. In addition, you can help organize these caregivers to form their own support groups within the company, or support them to set up mentor networks.
A final note: encourage self-awareness among caregivers
In the UK, NHS research has shown that it often takes people around two years to acknowledge their role as a carer, often seeing themselves as simply engaging in some caregiving activities for the people they care about, and sometimes not admitting to engaging in caregiving responsibilities. As a manager, peer, or a member of the corporate support system, you can help such caregivers become more aware about their unique situation, see the need to focus on their own well-being and get the support they need for their self-care, productivity, and caregiving tasks.