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Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace

Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace

Al Waller: Today’s episode spotlights and salutes the estimated 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S.1 They perform an invaluable labor of love that typically comes without any form of compensation but carries potentially negative implications for their own health and financial well-being.

Welcome back to Clearpath – Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller.

With me is Catherine Collinson, founding CEO and president of nonprofit Transamerica Institute® and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies to spotlight family caregivers and especially those who are balancing their employment with their caregiving responsibilities. This episode is actually a follow-up to our episode Caring for Caregivers which aired last year.

Before we get started – a reminder that we would love to hear from you and learn what topics you would like us to cover or just to give us feedback on today’s show. Please drop me or Catherine a note at [email protected].

Quite candidly, Catherine, I find this to be an important and critical topic with a lot of pressing implications. So, I'm very interested in hearing more of your perspectives, research, and practical counsel for family caregivers in terms of what can be done to help support these unsung heroes.

Catherine Collinson: Al, it is great to be back, and I’m so pleased we are having this conversation. I’d like to start by honoring Former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, who is renowned for her outstanding advocacy and support of caregivers. She famously said, and I quote….

"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."

Today, with increases in longevity, the aging of the Baby Boomer population, and the skyrocketing cost of long-term care services and supports, the need for adult children to provide care for an aging parent or loved one is on the rise. At some point or another, most of us will be called upon to be caregivers, if we haven’t already.

Al Waller: Well, Catherine, I've got to give Mrs. Carter some big props here because she is certainly spot on with her assessment. Now, I know your team has been focused on those caregivers, who in recent years have been balancing their jobs while providing caregiving support. So, what sort of intel did your research uncover?

Catherine Collinson: First of all, we need to do some myth busting. There’s a long-standing societal perception – or misperception – that caregivers are typically middle-aged women. This is simply not the case. According to our research findings, caregiving responsibilities are prevalent among workers across both generations and genders.

Our most recent survey found that 38 percent of workers are either currently serving or have served as a caregiver for a relative or friend in the past – that’s almost four in 10 workers!! What’s more – women and men are equally likely to be caregivers – both at 38 percent.

As we look across generations, you may be surprised here as well – 42 percent of Millennial workers self-identified as caregivers, as did 37 percent of Generation X, 35 percent of Generation Z, and 31 percent of Baby Boomers.

Caregiving is a responsibility that is widely shared across socio-economic and demographic segments of our society. It’s something we all share in common. Caregiving is an “everyone” responsibility.

Al Waller: Catherine, it's interesting. A couple of years ago, I would have found the data in these numbers to be surprising–but not anymore. Not only have my wife and I been cast in the role – past and present – of caregiving, but it seems like most of our friends have as well. And not just for parents, but also for disabled siblings and in some cases, tragically, for their children too.

And I can tell you through my professional experience in human resources, I've personally encountered how challenging and disruptive it can be for employees to balance their job responsibilities with caregiving. Let's face it, employers are often confronted with their own set of demands regarding the need to marshal productivity and morale in retaining these employees. Bottom line, I think we can all agree, it's not an enviable situation for either side, right?

Catherine Collinson: Indeed, and through our research we surveyed both workers and employers. So, I can share both of those perspectives with you – let's start with workers – caregivers who are currently in the workforce (that 38% that I referenced).

It is often difficult for caregivers to juggle their responsibilities. Going back to our workers survey, we found that 85 percent of them had made one or more adjustments to their employment as a result of becoming a caregiver.

The most often cited work adjustment was missing days of work at 33 percent and although it's far less common, almost one in 10 quit a job. Other types of work adjustments made, include reducing hours, beginning to work remotely, taking a leave of absence, or foregoing a promotion. It's important to underscore that all these types of adjustments could potentially impact a worker's paycheck and future earning power which in turn could impact their ability to save for their future retirement.

Al Waller: Well, before I retired from corporate consulting, I found that while employers were typically sympathetic, that amounted to little more than just “cold comfort” for their employees – as many employers were slow to recognize the issues and even slow to respond to them.

So, in that vein to what extent are today's employers recognizing the prevalence of caregivers in the workforce and offering support to them?

Catherine Collinson: Our most recent survey of employers yielded some encouraging news. Employers are starting to recognize the opportunity by offering one or more best practices, but there's still a lot of room for growth.

Let me share an example. The most often-cited type of employer support offered to caregivers is an unpaid leave of absence – 37 percent of employers offer that.

Other types of support include the following: 27 percent of employers provide online resources and tools for caregivers, while 23 percent offer an employee assistance program with counseling and referral services. One in five employers (20 percent) provide a benefit that offers discounts or subsidies for backup care (e.g., a paid caregiver, in-home care, adult day care).

Generally speaking, larger companies are much more likely to provide these types of resources compared with small companies.

Al Waller: Well, then could we talk about training for managers? It's been my experience, many managers lack a general awareness of caregivers and the pressing demands associated, which could render them to be less effective in their ability to manage the inevitable scenarios that may also arise, right?

Catherine Collinson: Al, that is so insightful, and I’m so glad you asked the question because managers can make all the difference in the world for their caregiving employees – and in fact, all of their employees.

Unfortunately, our employer survey found that just 21 percent of employers offer training to their managers about how they can support caregiving employees. So, this is a best practice that hopefully all employers will at some point implement in the future.

When we think about this type of training, managers could foster a compassionate and empathetic work environment. As we know, caregiving can be draining physically, emotionally, and mentally – and a supportive work environment can make it easier for caregivers and generate goodwill among all employees.

After all, there are only four types of people in the world – those who are caregivers, those who have been, those who will be, and those who will need them.

With such training, managers can also help raise awareness about the company’s policies and procedures, as well as employee benefits – and they are in a good position to help point employees in the right direction of the HR department, whenever it’s needed.

Al Waller: As an aside, having worked with emerging small business clients to fortune five hundred clients and those was in between, I found the strength and success of these organizations could be measured by their buy-in with respect to open and clear communication of policies top-down.

And to that point, I'd like to emphasize the importance of training for employees – so they're knowledgeable about the company's philosophy, share an understanding of caregiving and how it can impact them, their coworkers, and so they're aware of the policies and benefits offered them.

Catherine Collinson: Al, another outstanding insight and excellent recommendation. In fact, training for employees is a new best practice that we're going to be asking about in our next employer survey. Training for employees can make all the difference in helping them navigate both their work and their employment situations and know what employer resources are available. Let me share a personal example.

Much earlier in my career, I was called upon to be a caregiver. I was incredibly fortunate to have a forward-thinking, supportive employer, manager, and coworkers. They enabled me to maintain my job and balance my caregiving responsibilities. Without them, I would not have been able to do that. I would have had to drop out of the workforce. I forever owe them a debt of gratitude and a debt, which I’m doing my best to pay forward to colleagues, friends, and future caregivers.

However, as excellent as a support system I had all those years ago, I had been caregiving for four years before I became aware that the company had an employee assistance program with a referral service for identifying back up care.

I was teetering on the brink of burnout, and I’d been spending the wee hours of the night on the internet searching for trustworthy, reputable caregiver agencies, so I could take a desperately needed break and a short vacation.

If only I had known about that service four years earlier! I had no idea it was available. Once I discovered it, I contacted the employee assistance program, and they did all the research and presented me with three referrals for backup care within 24 hours of my request.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and there are new and different types of resources available – it’s easier to find information. But what a difference it could have made had I known about that early on.

Al Waller: You are so right! Communication is absolutely key, but at the same time, I find your story so reaffirming – it highlights an encouraging sign of companies striving to become more employee oriented.

In this competitive employment market, employers would be pretty wise to extend this type of compassionate support or run the risk of losing staff because the cost of replacement and retraining can be substantial.

Now, given you've been researching this topic for some time, could you share what ways the pandemic has changed the landscape, in terms of either making it easy or harder for caregivers – and so to that end, what gives you hope?

Catherine Collinson: As you may know by now, I’m an optimist and I’m always looking for opportunities and silver linings. One such positive outcome of the pandemic is the rapid transformation of the workforce.

At the onset of the pandemic, literally overnight, employers implemented flexible work hours and remote work arrangements – which have since proven themselves to be quite successful. They’ve shown that workers can be just as productive in this type of alternative work environment.

According to our most recent employer survey findings, six in 10 employers (60 percent) now offer flexible schedules and more than half (51 percent) offer the ability to work remotely. This new way of working is creating a more inclusive workforce, especially for caregivers whose only options may be to only work from home (or remotely) versus give up their employment altogether.

Al Waller: Those are some great points, Catherine. Think about it – with the emergence of flexible work arrangements, including remote working (thanks to technology), we've witnessed more inclusive workforce opportunities, not only for caregivers but also stay-at-home parents or individuals lacking access to transportation, as well as individuals with underlying health conditions, disabilities, or limited mobility for that matter.

It also sounds like there's some new developments from a public policy perspective on its way, right? What is happening on that front?

Catherine Collinson: As a devastating public health crisis, the pandemic laid bare weaknesses in our nation’s long-term care services and support system, and it cast a bright spotlight on caregivers, including their invaluable societal role, and their need for support. The issues have garnered tremendous attention from policymakers – and the momentum is accelerating.

In September 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through its Administration for Community Living, released the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers.

This strategy highlights nearly 350 actions the federal government will take to support family caregivers in the coming year, and it highlights more than 150 actions that can be adopted at other levels of government and across the private sector to help build a system to support family caregivers.

This strategy recognizes the fact that family caregivers – who provide the overwhelming majority of long-term care in the United States– need the resources to support their own health, wellbeing, and financial security, especially while they are providing crucial support for others.

Al Waller: It’s encouraging to note that progress is being made on so many fronts. Before we sign off, where can our listeners learn more about your research, as well as other caregiving-related resources?

Catherine Collinson: I will start by letting our listeners know to please visit transamericainstitute.org where you can find the survey reports in the Emerging from the Pandemic series that we have published.

We have those Emerging from the Pandemic research reports, the Employer's Perspective, as well as 4 Generations Prepare for Retirement and the Retirement Outlook of Women.

There are also many resources available through other organizations. Some of my favorites are:

Last but not least, I’d like to highlight the outstanding work of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.

On a final and very important note, I want to remind you and our listeners to protect your PII – your personally identifying information – and the PII of those you are caring for. Be sure to find reputable sources and do your due diligence. Be aware of suspicious websites, links, emails, phone calls, or requests for this type of information. Like so many other aspects of our lives, scammers focusing on caregivers are on the rise.

Al Waller: Catherine, good counsel there – I would like to thank you and your team for some outstanding research and insights.

For our listeners, if you have ideas for future episodes, comments, or feedback, please email me or Catherine at [email protected]. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss upcoming episodes.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

1Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2020. https://www.caregiving.org/research/caregiving-in-the-us/

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Catherine Collinson is the founding president and CEO of nonprofit Transamerica Institute and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, and she is a champion for Americans who are at risk of not achieving a financially secure retirement. With two decades of retirement industry-related experience, Catherine is a nationally recognized voice on workforce, aging, and retirement trends. She was named a 2018 Influencer in Aging by PBS’ Next Avenue. In 2016, she was honored with a Hero Award from Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) for her tireless efforts in helping improve retirement security among women.