The Challenges for the Working Caregiver
By Terri Murphy
At a time when companies are trying to increase productivity, reduce their costs and enhance the quality of their products or services, there is a growing crisis in corporations today that is preventing them from reaching their goals. Few companies realize the implications that working caregivers have on their internal costs and the company’s bottom line. Still fewer companies even know where to look for these hidden costs. Only one in seventy midsize to larger companies know how to address this issue.
The closest thing that a company associates with the cost of caregiving to the company is the absenteeism reports. Even in cases where absenteeism is recorded, the relationship between the numbers of days missed by workers and the reason for the number of days is not clearly established. Absenteeism may be the most obvious cost to the workforce, but it is not the only cost or even the most expensive one. Other factors such as a decreasing workforce, a loss of good workers, increased health coverage, overtime, and constant recruitment of new workers, also cost the company and the workers.
The number of those caring for a family member/loved one who is also in the workforce has increased threefold in the last five years and will continue to increase in the next ten years. What we are seeing today is only the beginning and unless companies begin to help their working caregivers, they themselves will not be able to keep their competitive advantage in the global economy. This is no longer a problem that affects only women in the workforce or lower income workers, but is a problem that exists at the CEO level as well as the lower administrative levels of a company. This is a problem that also affects working men, and young and older workers alike. For years the problem has been handled by the mid-level managers who have used leniency in granting permission for workers to leave early, come late, refuse to work overtime and while the managers have done their best to help good workers balance their work and caregiving issues, the poor workers have been left alone to tackle the problem. For years the problem has been handled silently by the working caregiver who has given up promotions, careers, training opportunities to provide care to a family member. But these individual solutions are no longer appropriate or recommended.
The first sign of relief for working caregivers came with the passage of the Family Leave Act which allows workers to take time off to care for a frail family member. This law helps working caregivers by guaranteeing their jobs while they take unpaid leave to care for the family member. But it does nothing to educate, facilitate, support and provide the necessary assistance to working caregivers after the crisis situation ends. It does nothing for the company which loses a valuable worker on a temporary basis and is replaced by a not so experienced worker. Many working caregivers have forfeited this unpaid leave options because of the unbearable financial burden of giving up a paycheck. Even though they might need the time, they are not able to afford it. Many working caregivers are not even aware of the law that protects them from losing their jobs.
We have reached a point in the road that something should be done. On one hand government can pass a law to financially support the Family Leave Act by mandating that employers with more than 50 workers offer at least a portion of the time off with pay. California is the first state in the nation that has passed such a law. On the other hand, companies are requesting that the Mandates of the Family Leave Act be weakened in the form of less time off or plain dismissal. This is not going to solve the core problem; on the contrary, it will produce more absenteeism, loss of good workers and increases in health care coverage resulting from higher health claims by working caregivers.
The solution from the point of view of working caregivers and from the financial perspective of the company is one and the same. That mutually beneficial solution is for companies to include in their benefit package a working caregiver assistance program. Those companies that have done it have achieved a higher degree of worker satisfaction, reduced loss of good workers, have increased the quality of their products and services and have kept the loyalty and goodwill of their workforce. For working caregivers this has been the answer to their prayers. They no longer have to miss work, come late, leave early, be on an infinite number of phone calls or spend their entire working day worried about mother, father, or husband at home.
A caregiver assistance program will provide valuable resources to employers and ultimately to their employees when they are faced with the myriad of questions that arise when confronted with elderly related issues. The employee will have this resource to turn to when trying to navigate through the elder care service community, saving them valuable time that otherwise would have been spent making phone calls and researching their questions themselves.
In my years helping working caregivers, I have found that a successful caregiver support program goes beyond information and provides intervention, services and ongoing support tailored to the needs of each individual caregiver. I have also found that if corporations see this as an imposition, not as a quality control measure, they will never make the investment in the program. It is up to us caregivers to make the corporate world aware of our needs and to support efforts that will alleviate our ongoing burden. Contact your human resource department and find out what they offer in terms of working caregivers, and if they don’t, let them know that assistance exists to support corporations to deal with this challenging and growing crisis.
For corporations to maintain their competitive advantage in the global market they need dedicated and experienced workers willing to give 120% to their jobs and this is achievable when companies are willing to help their employees with their family caregiving responsibilities. The rewards are there for companies that provide assistance to the working caregivers. This is an investment that in the end will save money and generate goodwill for all.