Employee Wellness

Retention

Employee Caregivers Need More Support from Their Employers

Employees are filling the gap in childcare and elder care services. Employers can fill the gap in supporting their mental health and well-being.

employee caregiver with child and elderly parent

The Calm Team

9 min read

Daryl, a VP at a technology company, has noticed changes in the behavior of a high-performing employee on his team. Joanne is often arriving late to meetings and appears distracted. When he raises the subject, she breaks down in tears, revealing that she’s exhausted from caring for her mother who moved in after a stroke. Her mother’s needs are escalating, but Joanne and her husband can’t afford long-term care and haven’t found a qualified in-home caregiver. Distraught about her mother’s health and her declining work performance, Joanne decides she needs to leave her job to focus on her mother’s needs. Daryl isn’t sure how he can help her.

Joanne’s story isn’t unique. Amid a full-blown caregiving crisis, a growing number of employees find themselves in highly stressful and unsustainable situations. As it becomes harder to secure affordable, quality child care and elder care, more employees are taking on the caregiver role themselves—often at the expense of their health, well-being, work performance, and their job. 

Employee caregivers need more care themselves. And while employers have the opportunity and incentive to support the mental health and well-being of employee caregivers, their efforts are falling short, according to a 2023 research survey conducted by Arizent/Employee Benefit News on behalf of Calm.

Caregiver Mental Health Support:
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The scope of the childcare and elder care crisis in the US 

Widespread closures of caregiving facilities in the pandemic era, labor shortages, rising caregiving costs, and a rapidly growing elderly population are just some of the factors fueling the caregiving crisis. Current statistics show the scope of the problem:

  • More than half of American families live in a “childcare desert,” an area where there’s either no licensed childcare providers for children under the age of five or there’s less than one slot in a licensed childcare center for every three children under age five. Forty-five percent of suburban communities and 56% of urban communities are childcare deserts.
  • Nearly 18% of children (>1 in 6) are reported to have a developmental disability, a 38% increase in prevalence since 1997.  
  • Half of older American parents aren’t getting the help they need with daily activities. 

The crisis is projected to get even worse: 

Caregiving takes a toll on employee mental health

The caregiving crisis affects more employees than you might expect. More than one in five employees is caring for a child or adult with special needs due to a disability, illness, or aging, yet 8 in 10 employees (80%) consider themselves a caregiver in some form, according to the Arizent/EBN survey. The amount of time they spend providing care ranges from nearly 24 hours a week to more than 50 hours a week, the equivalent of more than a full-time job.

The responsibility of caregiving can cause severe mental strain, often because the caregiver feels trapped. More than half (51%) of those caring for parents say it’s one of the most stressful parts of their lives. Screenings showed that 30% of caregivers have moderately or severely elevated levels of anxiety, and 26% have moderately or severely elevated levels of stress. Anger, loneliness, guilt, cognitive overload, and lack of concentration are other common responses to taking on a caregiving role.

Employees need more mental health support from their employers

Caregivers indicate they’re not getting the support they need from their employers, with 62% of respondents to the Arizent/EBN survey grading their company’s support for caregiving a C or worse. Those caring for parents or partners gave employers the lowest grades. 

Fewer than 20% of employees said their company offers resources to support them in caregiving, regardless of who they’re caring for. And among those who said their employer offers mental health services, two-thirds of respondents said those services fail to meet their needs.

“If I could have any kind of support to make the caregiving I provide to others easier, I would like to have support for my mental health and well-being,” said one respondent, a millennial working full time in accounting and tax preparation. 

How to better support the mental health of employee caregivers

The first step to supporting your employee caregivers is bringing the problem into the open. Employees often keep their caregiving challenges to themselves out of fear they’ll be viewed as less committed to their job, which adds to their stress. To reduce the stigma and help employees feel safe sharing their caregiving challenges, begin to proactively address the subject. Discuss the caregiving crisis in meetings and ask leaders to share their own caregiving stories. Acknowledge the challenges employees face (especially those with lower incomes) and let them know you’re working to deliver solutions. 

Here are five steps you can take to improve your mental health support for employee caregivers:

1. Collect data to understand your caregiver population

Tracking and measuring the caregiver challenge within your workforce is critical to understanding the specific issues your employees face across different locations, developing practical solutions that work for them, and building trust. 

  • Add questions about caring/supporting family members to your employee surveys to gain insight about the number of caregivers in your workforce, their specific challenges, gaps in community caregiving programs or resources, and the support they need. Are they using the benefits and policies you have in place?
  • If you have a caregiver ERG, talk with them to learn more about how you can support caregiver needs. 
  • Report on what you’re learning and how your insights are informing decisions.

2. Reassess your benefits and policies based on your data analysis

With data and insights about employee caregiving, you can assess the effectiveness of your policies and benefits and take appropriate steps to modify them as needed.

  • Rather than expecting employees to use vacation hours to care for family, for example, assess whether or not you can implement paid family leave as a competitive differentiator in your benefits package. Only about 40% of organizations offer paid family leave.
  • Explore community-based programs/resources that you can partner with to support your workers in different locations.

3. Educate and communicate consistently

You’ve likely implemented comprehensive employee communications strategies spanning multiple channels. Make sure you devote space in your communications to explain benefits and policies employee caregivers can take advantage of. Too often, these policies remain buried in employee handbooks or annual benefits plans guides that are not easy to find once open enrollment has ended.

  • Train managers to be aware of the policies and benefits that can help their team members who are caregivers. 
  • If your organization already offers paid family leave, make sure your employees are aware of the policy and feel comfortable using it when needed.  
  • Distribute accurate, current information about local resources to help employee caregivers.
  • Educate employees about Medicare and Medicaid coverage for care recipients, and other long-term care services.
  • Share what you’ve learned from the data and the steps you’re taking to address it.

4. Foster empathy in your organization

Most respondents of the Arizent/EBN survey said they could use a support network to help in areas such as mental and emotional health. 

  • If your organization supports ERGs and doesn’t have one for caregivers, help establish it.
  • Train managers on empathy. To encourage employees to speak up, train managers to establish an environment of psychological safety and empathy. One idea is forming empathy circles to allow employees to share challenges and learn coping skills. (Ogilvy improved workforce well-being with a Mindful Manager program delivered with Calm.)

5. Offer preventive mental health support to help employee caregivers manage stress, anxiety, and sleep challenges

Some employee caregivers may need clinical therapy, but it’s also important to offer preventive tools that they can use anytime, anywhere to relieve stress, anxiousness, loneliness, and other emotions that can escalate into more serious mental and physical health conditions.

  • Employees can use tools like Calm to defuse panic attacks in the moment, regain balance when feeling overwhelmed, or unwind and fall asleep faster after a hard day. Calm offers content under 10 minutes specifically focused on the needs of caregivers.
  • Employee caregivers also can extend these tools to eligible family members and children.
  • Look for preventive tools that offer a wide range of content developed specifically for diverse populations, including neurodivergent, LGBTQ+, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities.

Caregivers who feel supported by their company are much less likely to change jobs. By contrast, those who feel unsupported are much more likely to be looking for a new job with better benefits. Offering empathy, a supportive community, policies developed with caregivers in mind, and preventive mental health tools can improve the well-being and productivity of employees and help you retain high performers like Joanne.  

For more information on supporting the mental health and well-being of employee caregivers, connect with a Calm specialist today. 

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