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By: John Dalmata

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April 17th, 2018

Benefit Trend: The Rising Need for Caregiver Benefits

Smart Benefits | Healthcare

According to Gallup Poll research, 1 in 6 full or part-time working Americans also serve as a caregiver for a loved one. In most cases caregivers are unpaid, looking after an ailing parent or grandparent.

For employers, this can have a significant impact on absenteeism and workforce productivity. A caregiver misses on average 6.6 days or work annually. The annual cost of caregiver absenteeism amounts to more than $25 million.

As the baby boomer generation continues to age, even dedicated home care organizations are struggling to keep up with the demand. One local Albany home care provider shared that his growth problem has little to do with demand and everything to do with unavailable talent in the workforce. Nursing home or assisted living centers are cost-prohibitive, leaving families with little option but to take ailing and aging family members into their homes.

As the average age of the population continues to rise in the near future, today’s workforce is going to feel the added pressure of balancing work, life, and caregiver responsibilities. Employers need to be conscious of how this change will impact their workforce, and consider where they can help ease the caregiver burden from employees.

How do caregiver responsibilities impact the workforce?

Think of how a simple snow day can disrupt the morning of a working parent. The sudden need for a quick and affordable childcare solution can make it nearly impossible to make it to work, let alone get there on time.

Now, replace the child in this situation with a chronically ill parent. The emotional and financial toll can be a serious stressor on caregivers—possibly leading to reduced health, engagement, and lower productivity at work. This is before we even consider the impact of unplanned absenteeism.

Dr. Timothy Kelly of the Wellness Champions, who helps organizations introduce wellness and stress-management solutions, shares how caregiver-stress can have a ripple effect throughout an organization. "Other employees who have to pick up the extra workload from either absenteeism or presenteeism from the caregiver puts added stress and possible resentment on whole teams within the workplace."

In some cases, employees may conclude that the only way to reduce the stress is to resign from their role and permanently stay home with their loved one. SHRM reports that the average cost of employee turnover is equivalent to six to nine months of the employee’s salary. The financial toll of caregiver stress on a company can be significant.

What can employers do to reduce the stress on caregivers in their workforce?

It can be challenging to deliver a caregiver benefit that is fair to both employer and employee. How do you avoid abuse without inhibiting caregiver benefit use to those who actually need it? One research study showed that 66% of benefits managers agree that caregiver benefits will become an important issue in the next 5 years, and 45% of managers say that caregiving benefits are in their top 10 priorities for health and benefits issues.

While federal regulations, like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as well as state-mandated leave programs like New York Paid Family Leave have given caregivers job protection and wage-replacement, other additional caregiver benefits include:

  • Sabbaticals, or one-time extended leaves of absence for reasons that are not subject to regulatory requirements (perhaps to care for someone that is not considered a covered dependent)
  • Sick, vacation, or Personal Time Off (PTO) days
  • Employees can voluntarily “donate time” to co-workers
  • Paid-leave exclusively for caregiving
  • Flexible working schedules
  • Option to work remotely

One immediate action employers can take is to begin identifying their caregiver population. Based on these results, employers can determine how much of their workforce is subject to caregiver-stress. The results may call for an immediate look at how they might relieve that stress with increased caregiver benefits, or help them forecast when their workforce may be impacted by caregiver-stress in the future.

With the rising use of annual benefit surveys to uncover a given workforce’s particular benefit needs, it may be good practice for employers to start incorporating questions that help identify the impact of caregiver-stress on their organization. Otherwise, they risk discovering its impacts during exit interviews.

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About John Dalmata

John Dalmata is Benetech's VP of Operations, and manages Benetech's product development and customer experience.

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