Benefits and Compensation

Easing An Invisible Employee Burden: 4 Ways to Address Anxiety and Depression for Caregivers

Work is stressful enough on its own, but for the millions of people who also serve as caregivers for a family member or loved one, work stress is often compounded by the invisible burden of caregiving. And while most caregivers find value in their role, the reality is that as many as 70% of family caregivers exhibit signs of depression.

That burden often goes unnoticed by employers, but it can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, which ultimately spills over into the workplace and, by one estimate, costs U.S. employers $210.5 billion each year in lost productivity, increased medical costs, and absenteeism. 

The anxiety and depression that caregivers often feel can be particularly heavy for employees who are caring for a loved one with a mental health condition, as they struggle to care for their own personal needs while assessing and tending to the needs of their loved one. This is more common than many people realize, with one-quarter of children reporting signs of depression and 20% reporting signs of anxiety. Furthermore, depression impacts 7 million people aged 65 and older, while 50% of people in that age range also live with anxiety.

These struggles can have a profound impact on family dynamics, and for employers, they contribute to reduced productivity, reduced job satisfaction, and increased turnover, all of which can be costly. Employers can play a critical role in mitigating the negative impact that caregiving can have on mental health, but this requires an ongoing commitment.

Here are four ways employers can help mitigate the effects of anxiety and depression for caregivers while creating workplace benefits and policies that support corporate performance in key areas like hiring and retention, talent development, absenteeism, productivity, and managing healthcare costs.

  1. Maintain an open line of communication. Caring for a loved one with mental health challenges while simultaneously trying to manage their own mental health can leave many employees feeling isolated. And while the stigma surrounding mental health has declined over the years, many people are still reluctant to seek help, either because they worry about how they’ll be viewed or because they don’t believe professional therapy will work. Others simply don’t have the time and put themselves last because they’re too busy working and caring for family. Employers can address these barriers with communication designed to reduce stigma around mental health and by putting professional mental health resources front and center when highlighting available benefits. Creating an environment that makes it easy for employees to talk about these challenges has the dual benefit of fostering empathy and helping employees see they aren’t alone in their struggles. At the same time, this increases awareness among all employees of the challenges their coworkers may be experiencing, creating stronger connections within the workplace and preparing employees who may someday encounter similar challenges.
  1. Create communities for employees. A strong support system is key for anyone dealing with mental health challenges. Employers can help by building communities within the workplace that address these challenges. By establishing employee resource groups focused on mental health, employers can bring together employees who are dealing with similar issues but might otherwise never have found each other. You can accomplish something similar with therapeutic volunteer activities such as cleaning up a beach or going on a company retreat to create informal opportunities for employees to connect outside of regular office hours. For more pressing mental health needs, employee assistance program (EAP) crisis counseling may allow employees to address a challenging situation before it becomes a crisis. Together, these opportunities allow employees to share both the challenges they face and the resources they’ve found for managing those challenges. This kind of support can enhance feelings of belonging, which can increase productivity and job performance, reduce turnover, and result in employees’ taking 75% fewer sick days.
  1. Leverage technology to encourage use of benefits. Even when employees and/or their loved ones recognize they would benefit from therapy or other clinical support, they may not have easy access to in-person care. Employers can help overcome this hurdle by offering digital solutions that give employees anytime access to expert advice and educational resources and interactive tools that can also be used with their family members. These solutions have proven effective at treating many mental health issues, and young adults in particular are increasingly comfortable turning to technology to manage their mental health. By equipping their workforce with educational resources, microlearning lessons from the world’s top experts, and concierge support services, employers can make it easier for employees and their loved ones to live their healthiest lives.
  1. Implement policies that address caregivers’ needs. One of an employee caregiver’s most precious resources is time, and time can seem in short supply when you’re balancing your own needs with work and caregiving responsibilities. Employers can help with policies that give employees more time, or at least more flexibility with the time they have. Remote and hybrid work arrangements make it easier for employees to schedule work responsibilities around caregiving duties. Unlimited paid time off (PTO) gives employees freedom to step away entirely when they need to, and mental health days normalize the idea of taking a break before you reach your breaking point. When companies are in the position to afford it, paid family leave is a way to retain your employee caregivers through particularly challenging times. Implementing these policies and others like them helps caregivers better manage their diverse responsibilities while also sending a message that their employer recognizes their challenges and prioritizes meaningful support.

Managing our own mental health and well-being is challenging, but when a loved one at home is struggling, those challenges are multiplied, and without proper support, they can become overwhelming. With a few critical steps, employers can address those challenges and help employees and their loved ones thrive at home and at work.

Adam Goldberg, MEd, is chief strategy officer for LifeSpeak Inc. (TSX: LSPK), a provider of mental, physical, and family well-being solutions for employers, health plans, and other organizations.

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