What if I told you the biggest driver of productivity loss and retention issues is completely hidden and impacts more than 75% of your workforce?
Family caregiving is, without a doubt, the most overlooked gap in employee benefits. While family caregiving isn’t new, it was thrust into the spotlight during the pandemic, highlighting the incredible impact caregivers have on our healthcare system and society.
In today’s post-pandemic era, there has been a fundamental shift in what employees are expecting in terms of work/life integration. This tension has always existed, but it’s different now. We’re not willing to work at all costs. We no longer want to be forced to choose between having a career or caring for our family and friends.
Employees are realizing now that the lines of personal and professional lives are forever blurred. But, what does that really look like in the workforce? How does the culture, policies, and tangible benefits truly bridge the gap between companies saying “bring your whole selves to work” and actually living it?
The growing legions of family caregivers in the United States is a group that makes up the backbone of our healthcare system while also managing their own families and careers.
Preparing for a New Reality
Today, one in five employees is caring for a loved one. While many typically envision “caregiving” as child care or elder care, the reality is that so much of life happens in between. Many of the 53 million Americans who identify as family caregivers are facing a range of situations, from eldercare support to managing daily care of children and adults with special needs, spouses with chronic conditions, temporary accident recovery, veteran care, and more.
Family caregivers comprise between 18% and 22% of the workforce, and with 10,000 adults in the United States turning 65 each day, the aging baby boomer population is expected to increase the share of employees who are caregivers by 25% in the next 10 years.
This sandwich generation of caregivers will be tasked with building careers, raising children, and caring for aging parents simultaneously. And, we know that caregiving has intense effects on work: 61% of caregivers experience disruption to their employment, and 14% take a leave of absence due to caregiving duties.
The sandwich generation will be in their prime working years during some of their most intense caregiving seasons. Without an integrated infrastructure of support, they may be forced to reduce their hours or leave the workforce entirely.
Caregiving Support is Critical in DEIB and Mental Health Initiatives
Caregiving is a key driver of critical organizational issues like DEIB and mental health.
The burdens of caregiving fall disproportionately on minority groups. Women account for 61% of caregivers, and 39% are people of color. Without proper support, 32% of these employees will leave the workforce, hurting DEIB initiatives that aim to cultivate an inclusive and diverse workplace.
The impact of caregiving on mental health is also clear: Those caring for a loved one are 90% more likely to experience anxiety daily, and 70% show clinical signs of depression.
With the broad impact of caregiving, we need to think about how to build benefits that are sustainable, scalable, and cost-effective to meet the needs of every employee across all cultural backgrounds, career levels, and socioeconomic statuses. Today’s wellness benefits, which are traditionally human-based, are expensive and typically reserved for corporate and C-suite employees.
Recognizing this reality for caregivers and providing them with an infrastructure of support and workplace policies that not only meet their needs but also represent their day-to-day roles as caregivers is a must-have for any organization looking to support DEIB and provide mental health resources for its employees.
Bringing Caregiving Out of the Shadows
Personally, I’m a mom, an entrepreneur, and an employer, and I’m a family caregiver. I care for my father, who lives with my family of five, and just a few years ago, I cared for my mother during her battle with pancreatic cancer. I use my platform to shine light on the challenges of caregiving and the ways we can create a new infrastructure of support through employee benefits, policy, and community. And I am not alone.
Recently, a host of incredible influencers and executives joined me to share their stories of caregiving as part of the I Am Not Alone Alliance. This Alliance brought together former Fortune 500 CEOs Indra Nooyi and David Novak, policy leaders and culture-changers like Ai-jen Poo and Paula Faris, and trailblazing corporate leaders like Lindsey Lanzisero of H&R Block.
Sharing our stories is the first step toward a solution that supports the diverse needs of family caregivers. As the caregiving population grows, we must move past only human-based benefits and begin leveraging technology to create support solutions that scale with the growing needs of today’s employees.
If you’ve ever spoken with a friend or an employee in the throes of caregiving, it’s easy to feel helpless. It’s easy to feel a disconnect between the medicine they’re administering at home or the doctor’s appointments they’re driving to and their face on the Zoom screen or their Slack messages. But as employers, we are intensely involved in the day-to-day lives of our employees, and we hold the ability to build an infrastructure that will serve their needs and acknowledge their role as caregivers. It’s time. Let’s do this.
Jessica Kim is the cofounder and CEO of ianacare, which partners with employers to provide an infrastructure of support for working caregivers leveraging intelligent tech and human navigators. Kim is also part of the sandwich generation as a mother of three and a caregiver to her father.