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Three Benefits for Caregivers Working During a Pandemic

Worldwide, we will remember 2020 as the year the coronavirus pandemic disrupted life and work in unimaginable ways. For U.S. employers, it may also be remembered as the year when Gen C: Generation Caregiver took center stage.

According to the 2019 Harvard Business School report “The Caring Company,” 3 in 4 employees are caregiving for a loved one, and 1 in 6 are caring for an older parent or adult. But it took COVID-19 and a national work from home (WFH) mandate to have the C-suite and HR executives recognize some of the benefits for caregiving employees.

Following are three areas in which employers are making transformational changes that create a workplace culture of care. The Harvard study showed a gap between what employers offer and what caregiving employees need, but the coronavirus crisis may help close the gap. 

Workplace wellness

Employers are realizing the shutdown of services such as adult day care and concerns about in-home care, which could put both healthcare workers and older family members at increased risk for the virus, is causing family caregivers to take on more burden of care for loved ones, not less. For Sandwich Generation caregivers, it is even more stressful since they are juggling work, homeschooling children based on school closures, and caring for older loved ones.

Recent studies are pointing to a disturbing downward trend in caregiver health and wellness since the coronavirus shutdown in March. A recent report from the Rosalynn Carter Institute found that 83 percent of caregivers report increased stress, while a Harvard University study showed 4 in 10 caregivers have reported increased psychological distress during COVID-19. In another study by the University of Pittsburgh, researchers found caregivers have had a 43 percent increase in anxiety, sleep problems, and other health issues since the pandemic began.

Many employers have wellness programs in place, helping to fuel what has become a $48 billion workplace wellness industry. A couple of months into the coronavirus shutdown, employers began more frequently reminding employees about benefit programs and tools, including meditation and mindfulness app subscriptions, such as Headspace and Calm. 

Before COVID-19, the Harvard report showed only 16 percent of employers offered seminars or webinars on caregiving topics. Post-COVID, there was an increase in wellness education relating to caregiving via online webcasts. One program, Caregiver Monday, offers a self-care practice that takes only a few minutes at the start of each work week but has been shown to have positive health behavioral change. A recent survey found 64 percent of respondents reported if they start with a positive frame of mind on Monday, they are more likely to stay positive for the rest of the week.

Flex time

According to the Harvard study, 65 percent of employers surveyed offered flex time but only 39 percent of employees had taken advantage of the benefit. A Fortune 500 company who participated in a flexible work program reported employees had higher levels of job satisfaction, and reduced levels of burnout and psychological stress than the employees who did not use the flex time.

Since COVID, flex time has organically happened with many employees working from home and caregivers realizing they can balance work, family life, and caregiving with less concern about stigma from supervisors or office colleagues. In addition, the pandemic halted telecommuting, giving approximately 8 million workers precious minutes back in their day and removing the stress from highway traffic or crowded trains and subways. Employers have realized a flex time benefit is an essential component of supporting caregivers. 

Work from home

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, less than half of employers offered WFH programs, with many top executives and HR managers believing productivity would suffer. During the pandemic, the global experiment of WFH showed executives that productivity can actually increase. In September, more than 27 companies, including Aetna, Facebook, Mastercard, Microsoft, Raytheon and Siemens, have announced permanent WFH policies, showing this is one disruption in the workplace that is here to stay. 

This change gives caregivers more choice and flexibility as they can now become “workers without borders.” What was once an agonizing decision – keep your job and care for an older loved one long-distance – may now have become less fraught as caregivers have the freedom to move closer to parents or in-laws, but keep the job and career they love. 

This may positively change the statistics from the Harvard report that showed 1 in 3 caregiving employees took a leave of absence based on their caregiving duties. Many of these caregivers were senior-level personnel (53 percent and 61 percent, respectively) that most employers cannot afford to lose. According to AARP, U.S. employers spent $6 billion annually recruiting replacements for caregiving employees who left their jobs permanently. 

COVID-19 has brought much community fear and tragic loss to many families. But with every rainstorm you hope to eventually see a rainbow. For caregivers in the workplace, a focus on wellness education, work from home options, and more flex time may bring hope and health back.

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