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11 Things Employers Misunderstand About Caregiving Employees

A report released by AARP found that 42 percent of U.S. workers provided unpaid eldercare for a family member or friend over the last five years. And, 49 percent expect to do so in the coming five years.

And, that’s just eldercare. We know caregiving is about caring for a family member or friend, regardless of age. Could you imagine how many employees are in a caregiving role when we include statistics for those caring for a spouse or a sibling or a child with a chronic illness, disability or disease?

Last summer, a colleague and I met with a benefits director of a large corporation which provides benefits services to other companies. We shared that statistic about 42 percent of employees.

“I completely disagree with that statistic,” he said. “We don’t have that many employees in a caregiving situation.”

“What’s your typical employee profile?” I asked.

“A woman in her mid 40s,” he answered.

A woman in her mid 40s is actually the profile of a typical family caregiver.

This benefits director just didn’t get it–he just didn’t understand how prevalent the caregiving experience is among his employee population. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s alone.

Here are some thoughts on what employers don’t understand about the caregiving experience and their caregiving employees:

1. Often, caregiving employees must attend the doctor appointments and be present during hospitalizations. 

The preconceived notion is that the health care system (doctors, hospitals) takes cares of individuals who need care. The truth is that the family caregiver takes care of the individual receiving care in the health care system. Without the family caregiver, the family member could be minimized and overlooked. Good care just doesn’t just happen–the family caregiver demands it. And, that’s why the family caregiver must be at doctors’ appointments and hospitalizations.

2. Caregiving employees are everywhere.

In its 2009 report, Caregiving in the U.S., National Alliance for Caregiving estimated that 66 million individuals provide care. You often can’t tell if an employee is caring for a family member because they don’t wear a sign, they don’t readily share something so private and they are too busy managing two full-time jobs. Employers have caregiving employees in their manufacturing lines, in their rows of cubes and in the offices of their executives. They drive your delivery trucks, design your products and stand with you in the elevators. Employers have employees who care for grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, children and friends. Most important, employers have caregiving employees who may be men and women in their 20s through their 60s. The caregiving experience does not discriminate.

3. Caregiving employees fear losing their jobs.

The job provides the much-needed salary and benefits so working family caregivers worry about the time off they need for those doctors’ appointments and hospitalizations. They worry about the impact on their reputation at work. They worry a manager won’t understand the demands and needs of caregiving. They may stay silent, anxious that disclosing a personal situation will take them out of possibilities, promotions and their job.

4. Caregiving employees welcome the respite that the job provides.

The job also provides a break for family caregivers and a chance to be productive and creative. They enjoy the chance to focus on projects and responsibilities rather than a disease process and care needs.

5. Caregiving employees will be an employer’s most loyal employees when they feel supported.

Because they often experienced the disappearance of family members and friends once caregiving began, working family caregivers will be so grateful to an employer who supports them. And, the support only has to be understanding during a hospitalization or a chance for flexible work schedules once in awhile.

6. Caregiving situations have many tangles and webs–there are no simple fixes.

It’s difficult to find community resources which help, it can be a nightmare trying to get help from other family members, and hiring help can be time-consuming and costly. And, then there’s the caree, who often refuses to accept any help except from the working family caregiver. Fixes may come, but only after a long, winding road often traveled late at night.

7. A caregiving employee may be going through the worst time of his or her life.

Watching a family member or friend struggle and decline and endure pain is heartbreaking. Caregiving is lonely, isolating and sad. Caregiving employees don’t want special concessions, they don’t want to be treated with kid gloves. They just want employers to be aware that life outside of work may put life at work in perspective.

8. A caregiving employee often manages a health or medical crisis on his or her off hours.

Caregiving responsibilities mean that the day doesn’t end for working family caregivers. The day may begin and end with caregiving responsibilities and continue throughout the night.

9. Caregiving experiences last years.

Sometimes, caregiving lasts just a few months. Often, a caregiving experience lasts years, sometimes decades.

10. Being in one place while worrying that they’re not in the other place is an awful experience.

Worrying about what’s going on at work while caregiving employees advocate for their carees in the hospital is really stressful. It’s almost as bad as sitting in a cube while a caree is in the emergency room. Working family caregivers can’t be two places at once. Often, though, it can feel like that’s exactly what they must do.

11. Supporting family caregivers will save you money.

Gallup research estimates American businesses lose more than $25 billion annually in productivity from absenteeism among full-time working caregivers. When employers put programs in place to help working family caregivers, they save money. A program could be onsite support groups, regular lunch-time seminars and Friday morning yoga classes. When working family caregivers feel comfortable giving their managers a heads-up about a caregiving responsibility, managers and co-workers can appropriately plan for any absences.

Denise Brown is with

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