Employee Caregiving: A ‘Closet’ Workplace Issue

by Kevin K. Johnson, CSA

I’ve been wondering why it is that although employees need assistance with the complex issues of adult caregiving, so many employers are either unaware of their employees issues or unwilling to provide a foundation of assistance.

Employee/Employer Psychology

One reason may be that many employees disassociate themselves from the term ‘caregiver’. As such, the fact that they are struggling with providing care to an elder parent or loved one, is nothing that they want to mention to their colleagues or their managers. Most employees just take the challenge of the work/caregiver role in stride; they just do it! However, the result is often a decline in their job performance, unscheduled time from work, and/or a significant impact on their personal health causing additional time from work and increased burden on our medical system and their employers health care costs.

One reason for their hesitancy to reach out is that they are sometimes fearful that any issue that might be seen as a distraction from their job, is a reason that might be leveraged against them by their employer. More often than not, employees that are also adult caregivers are spending time on the job addressing the caregiving needs of an elder loved one. Does an employee really want it to be know that they really are not as focused on their job as they should be? This is why I believe that for many employees, adult caregiving is a ‘closet issue’!

This brings up what I refer to as the ’cause and effect’ loop of inaction. When I am discussing the burden of adult caregiving with an employer it is a common occurrence for them to be totally aware of this issue from either a personal experience or from witnessing a colleague that had to address an urgent and on-going adult caregiving case with a loved one. Yet, that employer never thought about how pervasive this is throughout their company. In other words, if you don’t measure an issue, that issue must not exist! Nevertheless, I’ve documented prior the researched fact that employers in the United States suffer over $30 billion per year in lost employee productivity as a direct result of adult caregiving issues. That’s every year!

Breaking Out of the Loop

We continue to raise this issue with employers because we know that they are the key to addressing this issue in a positive, proactive fashion. First, employers must acknowledge that this issue exists and that it is costing them dearly. Employers must approach their employees in an open, honest, and non-retaliatory fashion letting them know that adult caregiving is a fact of life. There can be no workplace  ‘penalties’ resulting from employees that disclose that they are also adult caregivers or having problems juggling this work-life balance.

Secondly, employers must realize that it is in their best interest to provide a way-forward-and-through the complex challenges that adult caregiving brings to their employees. This issue is too pervasive and too complex for an employee assistance program. Employers need to partner with subject matter experts such as Caring Concierge, that understand and specialize in adult caregiving issues from both the employer and employee perspective. Experts can provide subject matter education along with case specific resources and expertise to significantly reduce the lost productivity experienced by the employer and the stress experienced by the employee.

It is important that the issue of adult caregivers in the workplace ‘come out of the closet’. There are win-win solutions that will ‘normalize’ the work/life challenges of employee caregivers and reduce it to just what it is — A normal part of life that most of us will experience. By addressing work/life challenges of employee caregivers in a proactive manner, employers will resolve an issue that has a direct impact on their earnings.

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