Throughout the past decade, more and more Americans have been forced to leave their jobs to take care of aging loved ones. It’s a trend all but guaranteed to continue moving forward — unless employers start teaming up with home care providers.
In the U.S. alone, roughly 44 million people step in as informal caregivers. These are spouses, partners, friends or family members who assist with activities of daily living (ADLs) and possibly even medical tasks, according to San Francisco-based nonprofit Family Caregiver Alliance.
Often, those tens of millions of informal caregivers fall into the role because they feel responsible for the care recipient’s well-being. While their cause is noble, more than 80% of these individuals with caregiving responsibilities say their duties affect their work and employer relationships.
More specifically, their caregiving responsibilities impact their ability to perform at their best at work at all times, they say.
That’s according to a recent research report from Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work Project. The research examined the growing caregiver crisis and its impact on workplace productivity — and overall economic consequence.
To support employees, some employers have turned to professional caregivers for help. Starbucks, TripAdvisor and Target, for example, are already among the corporate behemoths that have teamed up with home care entities to offer caregiver benefits for employees.
But despite these prominent examples, the lion’s share of U.S. businesses remains largely unaware of their employees’ struggles with taking care of senior family members at home.
While 80% of employees say their workforce productivity takes a hit due to caregiving responsibilities, only 24% of employers responded that caregiving impacted workers’ performance.
“This was an 800-pound gorilla in plain sight, but no one was talking about it,” Manjari Raman, a senior researcher and program director for Managing the Future of Work, told Home Health Care News. “It’s almost the best-kept secret within organizations in the United States, that every employee, no matter their age, title or gender, is coping with some form of care responsibility.”
As a part of the Harvard study, researchers surveyed 1,500 employees and 300 HR leaders.
Overall, researchers found that 73% of the employees surveyed had some form of current caregiving responsibility. About 32% of employees reported voluntarily leaving a job due to caregiving responsibilities.
Meanwhile, 52% of employers said they don’t track data on their employees’ caregiving responsibilities.
“Many of them felt it wasn’t a strategic priority for the organization,” Raman said. “Many felt that there might be privacy issues, employers said they might be asking questions that employees wouldn’t feel happy sharing information about, or that employees would think they wanted to weed out unproductive workers.”
A lack of resources and the small size of the company are also reasons employers gave for not tracking this information, according to Raman.
“If you are a small company, imagine how much productivity loss can impact your performance if, behind your back, employees are struggling with care issues and you don’t have a game plan for it,” Raman said.
Multiple industry associations have made employee caregiver benefits and corporate relationships with home care providers a strategic priority for 2019 and beyond. They include the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA).
“Some companies are providing an extensive paid-time-off benefit, but what if you just turned to home care providers to offer employees professional caregiving in the first place,” Phil Bongiorno, executive director for HCAOA, told HHCN in May.
Additionally, in-home caregivers can play a critical role in providing respite and support to informal caregivers, according to Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy at New York-based direct care advocacy organization PHI.
“Caregiving is a significant financial and emotional strain, and deeply rewarding experience, for people,” Espinoza, told HHCN. “These numbers [from Havard Business School] are startling. The more we think about an industry response where employers are able to support their employees with family caregiving needs, paid home care support and a whole range of other job support, the more we will see stronger workplaces.”